At one time, the standard for a fulltime load in college was five classes a semester, typically earning 15 credit hours, with the usual four-year degree coming with 120 hours completed.
Inevitably, some students did not finish on time, usually for good reasons, but when a newly minted graduate went out into the working world, a longer time frame for graduation raised eyebrows. It was not disabling professionally, by any means, but there was a bit of a question in the fact.
Today, the taxpayers of Louisiana will waive tuition at four-year colleges for 12 credit hours a semester, so long as the student keeps up grades required for the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students. The 12 hours per semester is the federal standard for financial aid to a fulltime student.
Now, the Board of Regents overseeing higher education is considering tightening that standard, back to the old 15 hours per semester. A student failing to complete the typical five courses a semester would be at risk of losing the TOPS award.
The initial proposal to change the TOPS rule was deferred, in part because of the controversies lately surrounding TOPS. The state cut the awards for this spring semester because of budget problems. Despite the program's political popularity, its costs remain a concern.
Other controversial ideas have been advanced to rein in the high costs of TOPS waivers to the state Treasury. One idea, to phase in the amount of the waiver instead of 100 percent for all four years, has already been shelved by the Regents.
The discussion was prompted by a 2016 legislative mandate to try to bring more efficiency to Louisiana's far-flung institutions of higher learning, governed by no less than three management boards that are responsible to the Regents more in theory than in practice. We're not sure if, now, any of the TOPS recommendations will see the light of day in the Legislature.
A virtue of the TOPS award, in our view, was that it pushed students to complete their degrees in four years. But as that standard has eroded, both officially and in student expectations, perhaps a tougher rule is required for TOPS students. Today, there is an obvious incentive to graduate on time, because the TOPS award is for the typical four-year student. Still, a student starting out at 15 hours will have been more invested early on in a schedule that should, all things being equal, result in a degree on time. That saves students and their families money.
The TOPS students are, after all, being directly subsidized by the taxpayer. A rule pushing for a four-year degree in four years seems reasonable enough.
In a letter to Gov. John Bel Edwards and state lawmakers, more than two dozen student body p…