Most college students in Louisiana receive tuition assistance through the TOPS program (Taylor Opportunity Program for Students). TOPS is merit-based rather than need-based, so some underprepared students who may benefit from college aid end up slipping through the cracks. To address this problem, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) is debating the possibility of instantiating FAFSA completion a graduation requirement from high school. The options for schools will be:
1. Students will complete the FAFSA (starting in 2016, this form will be completed starting in October of the senior year, based on prior year taxes
2. Students will complete the TOPS application form
3. A parent may sign a waiver of the requirement (parent opt-out)
4. The district may send the state a hardship waiver (if the district lacks the resources to fulfill the mandate)
According to the Louisiana Department of Education newsletter, the TOPS Tech program is underutilized. TOPS Tech funds “skill or occupational training at any schools within the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, Louisiana approved Proprietary and Cosmetology Schools or Louisiana Public Colleges and Universities that do not offer a baccalaureate degree.” The requirements are not has high for TOPS Tech as they are for the lowest level of regular TOPS funding (ACT score of 17 for Tech; 20 for regular TOPS). State Superintendent John White, writing in the newsletter, says that “among students who are TOPS Tech eligible, historically, only 19 percent even seek TOPS Tech.”
The hope is that all eligible students will draw upon all the funding resources available to pay for higher education or job training.