A change in LSU’s grading system caused a scare for some students who received false notices that their TOPS scholarships had been revoked because they no longer qualified based on their GPAs.
The problem relates to the different way in which LSU now computes student GPAs and how the state uses them for purposes of administering the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students scholarships.
TOPS does not recognize LSU’s new plus-minus grading scale, which was instituted last fall, when calculating whether a student’s cumulative GPA qualifies him or her for the popular, in-state scholarship.
Under the new grading scale, LSU students no longer earn only whole letter grades. They also may receive a minus or a plus as part of their grade, resulting in an increase or decrease of 0.3 quality points. For example, LSU students earn 3.7 quality points for an A-minus grade, 4.0 quality points for an A grade and 4.3 quality points for an A-plus grade.
Since its inception in 1998, TOPS has calculated GPAs based only on whole grade numbers, said Deborah Paul, scholarships and grants director at the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance.
She said some students were notified by LSU that their TOPS award was on suspension because of grades, “but when the student checked our system, it showed that they were actually still eligible.”
State and university officials did not have information on how many students were misinformed.
To maintain TOPS throughout college, students must earn a 2.3 GPA by the end of their first academic year and a 2.5 by the end of all other academic years.
Aimee Thibodeaux, LSU’s assistant director of financial aid and scholarships, said the university no longer advises students on their TOPS eligibility, as factors such as plus-minus grading and transfer work could result in two different GPAs for the school and the state.
“There could definitely be some points of confusion, and, of course, the plus-minus adds another element into that,” Thibodeaux said. “I think that there were other departments on campus (besides Financial Aid and Scholarships) who may have been speaking to students regarding their GPAs, and we have worked with them to assure that that doesn’t happen.”
When LSU decided to adopt the plus-minus system, Thibodeaux said, it moved to have the state acknowledge the new standards, but its efforts were thwarted by a 2002 Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance rule, mandating TOPS only accept grades in whole-letter equivalents.
“Unfortunately, we were kind of halted at that point,” Thibodeaux said. “It would be great in all cases if we could have similar GPAs and similar rules.”
English professor Kevin Cope was on the front lines of the battle to institute plus-minus in his capacity as Faculty Senate president. He remains frustrated by the incongruity of the two GPA standards.
“I think that it is bewildering why TOPS and its sophisticated administration cannot seem to deal with this difference in grading systems because … it should seem that if you convert the grades into numerical values, you could easily go from one to another,” Cope said. “This is just an example of both an unresponsive state bureaucracy and a very sad phenomenon that … when LSU attempts to better itself, the state seems to get in the way.”
Apart from bureaucratic confusion, Thibodeaux said, the policy discrepancy means only good things for many in the campus community. For example, if a student receives a C-minus grade, it would be reported as C.
“I do believe it is a win-win,” she said. “It has positive impacts on the students.”