Do you hear that? That is the middle class pulling back the comforter from their Neiman Marcus bedding, stepping on to their Emperador light polished marble floors, drinking their Kopi Luwak coffee before going to work in their Mercedes- Benz Maybach Exelero. If you read Stephanie Riegel’s recent article “TOPS affords high-end college living” from the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report than that is the image that she paints in your head.
Instead how about eight-year-old bedding from Bed Bath and Beyond, noticing the stains in the carpet left by the dog that needs to be cleaned, skipping home brewed Community Coffee to get some at work because you are running behind, driving a 12-year-old truck because you gave your daughter your 6-year-old car to take to college so she would have something reliable. You get the idea and I am sure you have a similar story of a typical morning in your middle-class home. But wait, Riegel says your kid doesn’t deserve the TOPS college scholarship program and it should be needs based instead. Really? Even though your kids took the ACT an extra time or two to get the better score, took the Advanced Placement classes. They studied extra hard in school for Honors level TOPS believing it would be there when it was their time.
TOPS began as the first state funded merit based college tuition program in the country. There has been changes to it over the years and in the future additional changes may be made but the foundation is “merit based” and should remain “merit based”. There are numerous needs based college scholarship programs out there for low income households. TOPS is the one program for Louisiana residents that middle class can qualify for. Even then there are requirements your student must keep in college such as GPA, number of credits in college to take or your TOPS level will be dropped and not reinstated. Plus, you may still be out thousands of dollars a semester in dorm fees and mandatory meal plans if your student needs to stay on campus since TOPS doesn’t cover it all.
Yes, there may be some students staying in the nicer apartments around campus. Yes, there may be some sorority rooms that went a bit Pinterest crazy (more than likely most homemade crafts which look high-end) but if there was a poll done around the campuses of Louisiana you would see that is certainly the minority and not the majority as Riegel would like you to think.
Here are some stories in response to Riegel’s Tops article from other parents across the state:
“Even with TOPS and a scholarship I still had to pay a balance for Amanda. Her dorm is not lavish by any means. She brought stuff from her room at home and we got some new bedding. She worked since she was 16 and saved a good chunk of money to buy books and supplies. Plus, she has an on-campus job. On paper I’m sure we seem well off at least according to FASFA. If you are needy you already get Pell Grants and other such benefits. Middle class qualify for nothing except for TOPS and merit scholarship. She also took a student loan out that was unsubsidized of course so we will pay the interest while she is in school.”
“My son doesn’t live extravagant!!! His bedding is over 10 years old!!! He drives a 15 year old truck. He was valedictorian and made a 35 on ACT!! Even with TOPS, scholarship, band stipend and a job, we still pay a great deal of money for college. To take it away from deserving kids would be a shame. This writer needs to look at the majority of students, not just a few that live extravagant. Even if the students are wealthier, if they earn it they should be awarded it!!!! Mr. Taylor gave so graciously and it would be a great injustice to his legacy to change it for this reason.”
“On paper, my daughter would not qualify for a “needs based” scholarship. But we all know that the cost of living in 2018 is expensive. The lavish living that the article describes is absurd. I don’t know any college student who lives extravagantly. Just like the author doesn’t have data to support her argument, I don’t have any either. But decorating has come a long way since the 80s. You can create the illusion of luxury without spending a lot of money. Another point to argue is that if TOPS takes some of the burden of college expenses away for families, we should be grateful that families are able to spend their money elsewhere. Isn’t that important to stimulate and grow Louisiana’s economy?”
You get the idea, there are thousands of examples like this. I can share student’s stories as well from their perspective. But who again is Stephanie Riegel to say how we and our kids live? Do we need to provide receipts in how we decorate our homes and our kid’s dorm rooms or apartments along with their high school transcripts since she seems to think we ‘the middle class’ live so extravagant?
Just a reminder Mr. Patrick Taylor’s vision and commitment to form TOPS for the education in the State of Louisiana paved the way to give students an opportunity to go to college based on their ability to learn, not their ability to pay.
How many less successful alumni would Louisiana have in the past 10-20 years if it had not been for the TOPS scholarship college program? Something to think about.