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LSU's Tiger Stadium and its end zone signage sits illuminated late Tuesday night, February 20, 2018, on LSU's campus in Baton Rouge, La.

LSU has the largest applicant pool in its history and the university’s board of supervisors approved three new scholarships to entice those students to enroll for the fall semester.

About 23,000 students have applied for entry at LSU for the new school year that begins in August. That’s up from 17,000 last year, Jose Aviles, the newly installed enrollment chief, reported Friday to the board that oversees policy for the colleges in the LSU System.

More Louisiana students have applied than ever before as well as dramatic increases in African-American applicants and students from other states.

“Our applications have never been higher,” LSU President F. King Alexander said.

Now comes the task of actually signing them up. LSU hopes about 5,800 will enroll.

“Nothing is set until they put the deposit and say ‘Yes, I am attending LSU,” Aviles said.

Some of the supervisors voiced concerns throughout the meeting on how the state’s ongoing fiscal situation would impact enrolling this historically large and diverse pool of applicants.

The meeting started out with complaints from graduate students who teach classes, do research and say they are being impoverished by ever increasing fees. Then there were reports that only 46 percent of LSU medical students chose to do their residencies in Louisiana.

Facing a $700 million shortfall in revenues for the fiscal year that begins July 1, educators fear the Legislature, which is meeting through June 4, will again cut higher education appropriations to help balance the budget.

Out of the roughly 1,100 bills filed for the legislative session, LSU officials are following only about a dozen, Alexander said. But their highest priority is ensuring that university budgets aren’t reduced and that TOPS is fully funded.

Board member Rolfe McCollister asked the board to draft a resolution saying as much.

In the meantime, Aviles is enrolling students, even as his office is receiving a lot of phone calls about TOPS. The state budget, as it stands now, would cut almost all of the funding for TOPS.

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The popular Taylor Opportunity Program for Students provides grants that cover most college tuition for about 50,000 Louisiana students who scored at least a 20 on the national ACT exam with a maximum score of 36 and a 2.5 grade point average in specific courses.

A decline in population has caused a trend of too many institutions competing for fewer high school graduates, Aviles said. Where once LSU had their pick of Louisiana graduates, universities from other states are now cherry-picking high schoolers with a good academic records.

Financial aid weighs heavily on the decisions of students, most of whom applied to about 10 schools, Aviles said. That’s particularly true of out-of-state students who pay substantially more than Louisiana residents.

Applications from high schoolers in other states increased 69 percent from 8,281 in 2017 to 14,026 this year. They’re coming from the usual locales: Houston and Dallas, Alabama and Mississippi. But this year LSU also received more applications from New York City and Washington, D.C. areas.

A Louisiana student enrolling for 15 hours pays about $5,700 in tuition and fees, according to LSU’s table of charges. A nonresident student pays $14,030. Then living costs, books and supplies and other expenses bump the costs up another $15,000 or so for in-state students – double that for those coming in from out of state.

Aviles recalled a mother he spoke with last week during a recruiting reception in Washington, D.C. She voiced disappointment that LSU’s initial offer to her son was $3,335. He said that made LSU an outlier when compared to the other two schools in contention: Penn State and Georgetown University.

The board approved Friday three new scholarships that would help put LSU in the same cost ballpark.

The Innovation Award would give Louisiana freshmen up to $3,000, depending on their ACT scores and how much their family could afford to contribute. The idea is to attract bright but low income students. The scholarship would cost $2.7 million next fiscal year but would be about $10.7 million annually when fully implemented in four years.

The Tiger Excellence award for nonresident students would increase to $15,335 for students with ACT scores of 28 or 29 and a minimum 3.0 high school grade point average. It would cost about $536,800 next year and increase to $2.1 million annually after four years.

The Transformation Merit Scholarship would be $500 a year for incoming Louisiana freshmen who scored a 26 or 27 on the ACT. This scholarship was for $3,335 and was only for academically qualified out-of-state students. In addition to the new in-state component, the scholarship will increase to $13,335 per year for nonresident students. It would cost about $2.19 million for the first year and a projected $8.7 million for all four years.

The money would come from LSU’s general budget, which primarily comes from tuition and fees. “These three scholarships are really critical to enrolling the class,” Aviles said.

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.