Louisiana Scholarship Isn’t TOPS with Two-Year Students
By Scott Dyer
BATON ROUGE, La.
For the most part, Louisiana’s community and technical college students have missed the state scholarship boat. Virtually all of the 36,000 students who cashed in this year on the state-funded Tuition Opportunity Program for Students, or TOPS, are attending four-year universities.
To qualify, a student must maintain at least a 2.5 grade-point average in a high-school curriculum heavy on college preparatory courses and must score at least a 20 out of a possible 36 on the ACT.
Students who want to pursue a technical degree at a community or technical college get a slight break in the ACT requirement — they have to score a minimum 19 on the ACT.
But critics have argued that a minimum ACT score of 19 is still too high for such students, and that it’s unrealistic to expect them to complete the same courses in high school as students who plan to go to full-fledged universities.
Since the TOPS program began in 1998, only 91 students pursuing technical degrees have qualified for a TOPS scholarship. The numbers are nearly as dismal for students who enroll in community college associate’s degree programs that transfer credit to four-year universities — mainly because the requirements are the same as for four-year universities.
And because Louisiana currently has more four-year universities than community colleges, a vast majority of qualifying students ends up applying scholarship money to universities instead of two-year schools.
During this spring’s legislative session, Louisiana lawmakers passed a bill to address the problem for technical college students, but they defeated a proposal aimed at easing TOPS standards for community college students who enroll in transfer programs.
In the final days of the session that ended June 18, lawmakers approved a bill to lower the minimum ACT score for so-called Tech TOPS scholarships from the current 19 to 17. The measure also softened the curriculum to allow prospective technical students to substitute applied math and science courses for algebra, chemistry and other college-preparatory courses. In addition, the bill allows the technical students to take technical and occupational high-school courses, but still requires a minimum 2.5 grade-point average.
But legislators rejected a proposal that would have lowered the minimum ACT requirement to 18 for community college students in transfer programs.
The lack of special criteria for community college transfer students is creating special problems at fledgling schools such as Baton Rouge Community College, which are not far along in the accreditation process to qualify for Pell Grants and other financial aid.
Baton Rouge Community College Chancellor Walter Bumphus acknowledges that the lack of Pell Grants and other scholarships has hampered his school’s ability to attract African American students.
The issue is particularly important because the school was created by a desegregation order as a racial mixing tool, and court-appointed monitors have expressed concern in recent months about low African American enrollment. White enrollment at Baton Rouge Community College has increased by 11 percent since the school opened in the fall of 1998, but Black enrollment has decreased by 9.7 percent.
Bumphus, who took over as chancellor in November, says he’s launching several outreach programs to rectify that problem. But he concedes that financial aid is a vital ingredient for any program that seeks to bolster African American enrollment.
Bumphus says his school applied for accreditation in June, and hopes to be able offer Pell Grants and other federal aid by the fall of 2002.
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