NEW ORLEANS – Graduation is supposed to be a happy time of year, but many local students are wondering if proposed changes to a state scholarship program will affect their college plans.
On Tulane University's campus Tuesday night, tassels were straightened, pictures were taken with loved ones to remember this momentous occasion: graduation day.
Ashley Oniate is part of the 2016 graduating class at New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics High School and she has goals.
“My plan is to go to college at the University of New Orleans and study fashion,” said Oniate.
Oniate, like so many graduates, is worried about how she'll pay for college especially with changes to Louisiana's Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, better known as TOPS. She has applied for the scholarship but is waiting to hear back.
“I don't think they understand how expensive college is and people are age, we can't afford everything and a lot of people rely on TOPS,” added Oniate.
Earlier this month, Governor John Bel Edwards signed a new law which locks in TOPS awards at the current rate. Basically, if tuition goes up, scholarships won't automatically increase.
In order to balance the state's budget, Governor Edwards was considering slashing TOPS by 66 percent. Any type of cuts are concerning to recent high school grads and students waiting to graduate.
“It makes me feel pretty nervous about going to college because you know, there's a possibility that I might not be able to afford it and without the grants from TOPS it doesn't seem like a possibility,” said high school junior, Talor Tolbert.
Another bill now being considered by state lawmakers is changing the minimum qualifying GPA for TOPS from 2.5 to 2.75 and also raising the minimum qualifying ACT score from 20 to 21.
"If the ACT goes up by one point and the GPA requirements just go up by a quarter of a point, you're going to see, on average, about a quarter of a drop in terms of eligibility of students,” said Vincent Rossmeier with Tulane University’s Cowen Institute.
Rossmeier just published a report which shows if the minimum GPA goes up, about 28 percent of students in metro New Orleans wouldn't qualify for TOPS. The report said if ACT score requirements change, 23 percent of students would lose scholarship eligibility.
“What we're really concerned about is the ability of the students from the lowest income brackets to be able to afford college, especially first-generation college students,” said Rossmeier.
More than 51,000 students received TOPS scholarships this year. In 2014, the Cowen Institute estimates it cost $221 million to fund the program.