It’s unfortunate to think that threats to higher education could become the norm in any state, but that has been Louisiana’s story over the last few years-and it’s exactly where we are once again.
Back in the 2016-2017 school year, the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) failed to receive full funding for the first time in its history, following a 30 percent cut. Students were left searching for alternate sources of funding for college-a task that can be undeniably difficult and stressful.
Yet, lawmakers have proposed massive cuts to both TOPS and higher education once again.
Today, Louisiana legislators will be discussing and potentially making amendments to a revised bill that, as of now, would cut TOPS by 20 percent and universities by around $26 million. While the legislature hopes to propose revisions that would lower such cuts (for example, cutting TOPS by 10 percent instead of 20 percent), they are cuts nonetheless.
What would that mean for Nicholls? It would mean an approximate $500,000 cut to funding and a slap in the face to hardworking students pursuing their college dreams.
Students pay 75 percent of the operating budget at Nicholls. Those funds cover personnel costs. The other 25 percent comes from state funding and covers areas such as academic programs and maintenance costs. If Nicholls were to see budget cuts, it would affect the areas funded by that 25 percent. While the university would not cut academic programs, the budget decrease could lead to changes such as fewer courses and could greatly affect maintenance done on buildings around campus, both of which are crucial to student success.
TOPS is a program whose mission is found in its name: opportunity. The program gives students the opportunity to receive financial assistance in the form of scholarships as they pursue an education that will shape their futures. To cut TOPS is to deny students that crucial opportunity.
Losing that extra scholarship money can be detrimental to students who rely on such funding to help make their college experience possible.
It’s abhorrent that education seems to always be the first area that falls victim to budget crises in Louisiana. For starters, such decisions diminish the importance and value of education to the state. It raises alarming questions such as this: if education is not important to the decision-makers in this state, then to whom is it important at all? We should be able to trust that our leaders care about and prioritize something that is crucial to the success of Louisiana and its people. It’s disheartening to say that is not necessarily the case anymore.
The fact that we as students have to worry year after year whether or not we will receive full TOPS (or frankly, receive TOPS at all) or whether important programs that fuel our career paths with take brutal hits is shameful. Our education should never be something expendable to this state. It should be a priority. Every time major cuts to higher education are proposed, it feels like another slap in the face to everything we have worked for up to this point. Such cuts are even more brutal for students who may be struggling to pay for their education to begin with or those relying on student loans.
Students are the future of this state. We are its future educators, doctors, CEOs, lawmakers and so much more. We are the leaders who will contribute to and shape this state for years to come, but our future is being threatened at the hand of our own government. How can our future exist if our education is diminished time and time again?
To our lawmakers: we’re tired. We’re tired of the uncertainly surrounding our education. We’re tired of our education being at the forefront of every budget crises. We’re tired of our education being expendable. It’s time to listen to the voices of your future. It’s time for real change.
Students, if we want our leaders to prioritize education in this state, then we need to make our voices heard loudly and clearly. Call your legislators. Email them. Tweet them. Let them know that we are here, and we are crucial to Louisiana. Let them know that our education should be a priority and not something expendable. Show them that we are a force that will not rest until we receive the stable education that we deserve.