As Louisiana struggles with TOPS funding, bills to reform program pass first hurdle in Senate committee

Advocate staff photo by CHARLES CHAMPAGNE — Incoming freshman and transfer students head to their next STRIPES activity Tuesday, August 11, 2015 on Louisiana State University’s campus.

For the first time, more than half of Louisiana's high school graduating class qualified for the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, state officials announced Tuesday morning.

A total of 52 percent of public high school graduates in the class of 2017 were eligible for TOPS, the first such class in state history.

TOPS pays for tuition and other costs for students who meet the academic requirements.

Students have to earn a 20 on the ACT, which measures college readiness, and a 2.5 GPA on their high school core curriculum to qualify.

The more than 19,200 students who meet the standard for TOPS is also the highest ever, according to data from the Louisiana Board of Regents.

That was up from 18,373 in 2016.

The number of TOPS qualifiers is also up 18 percent since 2012.

In addition, the number of students who qualified in each TOPS category also rose in 2017.

About 52,000 students get the assistance.

The most common form of TOPS is called TOPS Opportunity.

Others are TOPS Honors, TOPS Performance and TOPS Tech.

"The increase in the number of students who are eligible to receive TOPS scholarships is another testament to the great work happening in K-12 classrooms across the state to prepare our students for success after high school," state Superintendent of Education John White said in a statement.

Commissioner of Higher Education Joseph Rallo attributed improvements to collaboration between higher education officials and the state Department of Education.

"Together we have increased the rigor of academic work to prepare them for the challenges and opportunities afforded by participation in higher education," Rallo said, also in a statement.

"The student, as well as the state of Louisiana, benefits from their success," Rallo said.

Figures on how many minority students qualified for TOPS in the class of 2017, and how that compares with previous years, were not available.

Check back with The Advocate for more details.

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