Will cash crunch cost La. its TOPS

Don’t look now, but LSU System President John Lombardi has found our Achilles heel.

If you’ve got college-bound teens, you’re probably familiar with TOPS. Named after the late oilman Pat Taylor, the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, costs nearly $130 million, according to the Associated Press.

Since its inception more than a decade ago, the program has cost the state better than $1.2 million.

When cash flow wasn’t an issue, Taylor’s program was much more than another “feel good” effort toward educating the state’s young. It provided incentive for students who wouldn’t have otherwise considered attending college.

The program covers four years of tuition at in-state colleges to students who meet given criteria.

But now the state is strapped for cash. And everything – sacred cows like TOPS included – are up for re-examination.

Enter Lombardi.

The LSU System chief is proposing stricter financial guidelines on students seeking TOPS. Sure, the youngster doesn’t likely have the bucks to cause concern. But, according to Lombardi, students whose families earn upward of $250,000 annually are receiving TOPS support.

“There’s a significant number of TOPS recipients who clearly don’t need it,” Lombardi is quoted by AP as telling a panel looking to restructure the state’s public higher education. “I’d like to say people making a hundred grand and above, ‘Maybe you need a TOPS certificate, but maybe you don’t need the money.'”

It’s not a new argument. Similar suggestions have failed to gain favor among lawmakers or, more importantly, the parents who elected them.

For years, high school students have maintained a given grade-point average and completed certain courses in hopes of receiving TOPS. “To change the rules now will be going back on a promise that the Legislature made, and I don’t think we should do that,” the AP quotes Sen. Ben Nevers, chairman of the Senate Education Committee as saying.

Lombardi has a tough road to hoe. This late in the program, lawmakers are not likely to demand the program’s requirements be revised to include financial need, making TOPS the price the state pays for promising students a payoff if they work hard in school.