Dillard University President Walter Kimbrough says Louisiana’s generous Taylor Opportunity Program for Students has gotten away from its intended purpose.
“Sadly, we’ve hallucinated a justification that the program keeps the best in state,” the leader of the private historically black college in New Orleans writes in an op-ed that appeared in the Shreveport Times. “Based on migration patterns and studies of high performers, this is not true, and in fact, we’re losing even more students today.”
The state pours millions every year into TOPS, which offers tuition assistance for Louisiana high schoolers if they attend colleges in the state and meet certain academic criteria. It covers tuition for public schools and partial tuition for private schools.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s budget recommendation for the coming year would pump an additional $34 million into the program compared to this year’s budget and provide scholarships for some 3,200 more students. That would bring the total state funding for TOPS to $284.3 million and the number of students up to 55,278. The governor, a staunch defender of the program, is expected to oppose any proposed TOPS changes in the coming legislative session, which starts April 13.
But Kimbrough argues that TOPS is in need of review.
“Let’s not pretend that TOPS is a noble undertaking anymore and accept it for what it is — a tax break in the form of a scholarship for people like me who can pay for their kids to go to school if they decide to stay because they will have lots of options, including some for which I will be willing to pay,” Kimbrough writes in his op-ed.
A recent report on TOPS found that, over the past decade, the scholarships have gone disproportionately to white students and students from wealthier families. Several debates were waged over TOPS during last year’s legislative session and efforts to reduce costs, before the Senate ultimately dropped a push to change standards for the program.