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Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Students make their way around campus on Field House Drive near Lockett Hall during the first day of fall semester classes for LSU students, Monday, August 24, 2015. ORG XMIT: BAT1508241736196086

HILARY SCHEINUK

After a tumultuous summer, plagued by unprecedented financial cuts to student scholarships, shootings that stoked race relations and attracted international media, and the most devastating flood event to ever happen to the Baton Rouge area, LSU officials prepared for the worst.

Would students return to the state flagship? Could they still afford it? Do parents still feel safe sending their children to the Baton Rouge campus?

On the first day of school, enrollment was down about 2,600 students, almost 10 percent, over the previous year. It would have been a devastating financial blow for the university, which is now largely reliant on student tuition and fees for operations.

By Friday the drop in students had diminished to less than 2 percent – a loss of about 530 students. That number doesn't include online students. In total, the enrollment was back to normal at about 30,400 students. 

Friday was the 14th day of school, the day enrollment is officially counted for the fall semester and when students are typically required to financially commit. This year, because of the flooding event, LSU is pushing back the deadline for students to pay for school.

"That could change even more," said LSU President F. King Alexander in an interview. "The trend every day is that the gap has been closing a fourth of a percent."

LSU officials say they're relieved the drop in students over last year wasn't more severe, but what's not being taken into account is the increase in students LSU had initially projected for this year.

Alexander said about 25 percent of students live in the flood affected areas.

He said it appears the initial drop in students could be attributed to the flood, as school started just a week after the flood hit, and families were still salvaging their homes. It seems many of those students have trickled back to LSU over the past few days.

But out-of-state students were steady over last year. Those are the students most likely to be scared off by the mass coverage of the Alton Sterling shooting and the subsequent killings of three law enforcement officers.

"We have more non-resident students, it surprises me," Alexander said. "Because the press wasn't good all summer."

The loss of in-state students is an indicator, Alexander said, that students were more deterred by the cuts to the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students scholarships and personal disruptions related to the flood.

This is the first year in the history of the TOPS scholarship program that the state failed to fully fund its obligations to the popular scholarship program. Come this spring, TOPS students will be awarded state funds for less than half of their second semester tuition.

TOPS, which will go to about 51,000 students this year, has historically covered full tuition for students who earn the award.

Alexander said he thinks TOPS cuts did have a small impact, and some high achieving in-state students ended up taking scholarships for out of state schools. But he said the real impact of the TOPS cut won't be realized until next semester.

Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter, @rebekahallen.