Our views: Ground zero for TOPS cuts means increased costs for students, families _lowres

dvocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS shot on 2-10-10. 00020511a. The LSU Campanile or Bell Tower is the most iconic and recognizable historic building on campus.

If you grow up in Louisiana, and do well in school, you’re on your way to LSU’s main campus on a TOPS scholarship award.

Obviously, it’s not the only campus for the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, the state’s voucher program for college tuition. The award is good at all campuses and both Louisiana Tech University, in Ruston, and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette have substantial enrollments of TOPS-eligible students.

This is a tribute to the high-quality educational opportunities available to students at those campuses. But it also has a financial downside for campuses, particularly LSU’s main campus.

When the state came up short of cash, as it did in this fiscal year, the campuses had to absorb the costs. That caused a $28 million budget problem for the public college systems, but particularly for LSU, UL-Lafayette and Tech.

At LSU, most entering freshmen from Louisiana are TOPS recipients. While fees — not covered by the TOPS tuition waiver — have risen a great deal at all campuses, those don’t cover the increased cost to educate new students.

LSU’s shortfall is one that is causing heartburn to President F. King Alexander and his board, but also for their colleagues around the state.

“If they don’t mitigate (TOPS) it will be pretty painful,” Alexander said. “If they do mitigate it, I think we can get away with some across-the-board reductions and limp through the rest of the year.”

It’s not a good situation for any campus.

There has been much debate about the linkage between TOPS and tuition; if the latter is raised, the cost to the state is greater for the TOPS students at LSU and elsewhere. We have long supported sensible reforms to make TOPS expenditures more predictable and less onerous to the state Treasury, but it remains a popular program.

With the high numbers of TOPS-eligible students going to LSU, UL-Lafayette and Tech, those campuses are always going to face difficulties if there is any uncertainty about TOPS funding — not to mention costs for college going up for students and their families.