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College students crowd the capitol defending higher education, TOPS

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BATON ROUGE - For the first time in state history, more than half of last year's graduating class qualified for TOPS. But like every other year, the program is on the chopping block. Lawmakers are deciding the fate on whether the program will see cuts.

In response, hundreds of college students made their way to the State Capitol for University of Louisiana System day.

“It’s just another opportunity to voice an opinion about TOPS, and the privileges we get access to that others don't,” said Triston Bussell, a freshman at Northwestern State University. "Myself included, TOPS is a major funding means for us to just be able to go to school."

Year after year, students worry about lawmakers making cuts to TOPS, or making the scholarships more strict because of a budget shortfall.

“I wouldn't be in college if it weren't for TOPS,” said Southeastern Louisiana University junior Richard Davis. “So if we didn't have TOPS, or if it was reduced, it's going to affect a lot of students. A lot of students won't be able to continue their education."

A record number, more than 19,000 graduates were eligible for TOPS in 2017. That’s nearly 1,000 more than the year before.

“I think that shows it's a success and that we're having more people staying in the state too,” said SLU senior Anna Crawford. “If we want more people to stay here and help the state, we need to help support students to stay here.”

“The future of our state are the people who are in higher education institutions right now educating ourselves and preparing ourselves to go into leadership roles that [lawmakers] are in now," said SLU senior Seth Leto. "So supporting TOPS, that’s how we're going to continue the progress in this state."

With so many in attendance, some lawmakers responded to the students.

“I'm going to ask you to make a commitment to us,” said Sen. Norby Chabert. “We're going to fight like hell to get you money for your school, we're going to fight like hell to get money for your scholarships. But you have to fight like hell to make Louisiana the best state it can be."

There are 12 bills regarding TOPS in the Legislature this year. One that would limit the dollars to lower-performing TOPS students, has failed.

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