TOPS is a nearly $300 million a year program, fully funded.
Right now, approximately $110 million in funding is proposed for TOPS next year. That is made up of $60.2 million in tobacco settlement funding and an additional $50 million in funding the governor is proposing.
That leaves TOPS roughly $187 million short of its full funding next year. It is uncertain at this point whether the remaining $187 million shortage of TOPS funding will be restored. Until then, it is important that all students seeking TOPS awards do everything they can to be ready to accept TOPS funds.
How many students will be funded for the 2016-17 academic year?
The number of students who will receive TOPS Awards next year will not be determined until eligibility is determined and elimination provisions are implemented, based on the dollars appropriated. Funding is contingent upon appropriation.
Currently, when there is a budget shortage, TOPS awards are eliminated beginning with students who earn lower ACT scores (and inside each ACT score band, beginning with the students who have the highest expected family contribution in $1000 increments through those with the lowest expected family contribution) and moving up through each ACT score band until the funding level has been reached.
However, the number of total students eligible for TOPS next year remains a moving target as more 2016 high school graduates with higher ACT scores become eligible and other existing higher ACT-scoring TOPS recipients leave the system, etc. So, funding for awards remains contingent on how much the legislature appropriates to TOPS at the time that the state budget is passed and actually funded.
Also, Governor Edwards is supporting legislation currently being considered that would spread TOPS dollars so that, when cuts are made, all qualified recipients would receive some TOPS tuition support. The current law requires cuts to be made in an “all or nothing” fashion, eliminating awards completely for students with lower ACT scores.
What do students/parents need to do in the meantime?
File the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) immediately. You many access the FAFSA at www.fafsa.gov.
The deadline to file a FAFSA or Renewal FAFSA to be considered for funding in the 2016-2017 academic year is July 1, 2016. This includes first-time and continuing students.