Expert: TOPS situation shows need for other scholarships; tips for students here
PONCHATOULA - Educators advise high school students to take a serious look at how they will pay for college outside of state assistance since TOPS funding could be suspended or decreased.
In a 24-hour window this week, TOPS officials caused panic among students and parents of college-aged children when at first they announced tuition payments would be halted and then later said TOPS would pay 80% of tuition. The suspension and partial payment announcements come amid a growing state budget deficit and lawmakers have suggested there is not enough money to fund the popular tuition program that for years has paid for Louisiana high school students to attend college.
This year, TOPS data shows there are about 22,000 students on TOPS receiving between $2700 to $3100 a semester for schooling.
Friday, students said the threat of losing TOPS because of a lack of state funding meant they were re-considering their college plans.
Whatever happens, a nationally certified school counselor suggests students should do more to secure scholarships outside of TOPS.
Denise Latour, a counselor at Ponchatoula High School in Tangipahoa Parish, suggests:
- students should complete the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid
- on paperwork for the FAFSA, indicate students are open to work study or loans
- students should consider starting their college education at a community college where classes are more affordable; students can transfer to a four-year program later
- while the lure of being away from home for the first time is exciting, students should consider a college close to home; there are three, public four-year institutions in the capital region
- look for colleges that offer merit aid; students can sell their high GPA to schools who are looking to recruit top-tier students from other colleges
Latour also said parents need to keep an important thought in mind: don't sacrifice retirement savings to pay for kids' education.
"Students can take out loans," Latour said.
She added, always question services that make students pay for scholarship information.
"It should not cost money to win money. Money is always accessed for free," Latour said. "Everyone can apply for grants and scholarships on their own."
"The best resource is students' school counselor," Latour said.
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