September/October Newsline Articles

Gov. Foster Pledges TOPS Funding

Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster pledged his commitment to the state’s Tuition Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS), stressing the importance of higher education for the state’s citizens and applauding recent statistics showing an increase in scores by Louisiana students on a national college entrance test.

"The state is committed to appropriating the money needed to cover all the students that are eligible" for TOPS, he said Aug. 19, 1998, at a ceremony acknowledging the achievements of all TOPS recipients. The ceremony was held on the Louisiana State University campus.

Foster’s comments came after an announcement by officials of the American College Test (ACT) reporting the average Louisiana ACT scores increased from 19.4 in 1997 to 19.5 in 1998. TOPS recipients must score at least as high as the state’s prior year average rounded to the nearest whole number. This means that 1999 high school graduates must achieve a 20 on the ACT in order to qualify for a college tuition award, while high schoolers who graduated in 1997 and 1998 had only to score a 19.

"We are rewarding students for their hard work and encouraging excellence," said Foster.

More students qualified for TOPS awards this year than state officials had predicted, and those numbers are expected to grow. The number of public school students who took the ACT increased to 76 percent, the fourth highest rate in the country, and 16 percent came from families earning less than $18,000 (compared with 9 percent nationally). About 82 percent of all Louisiana 1998 high school graduates — public, private and parochial — took the ACT, an increase of more than 10 percent over 1997. State officials attribute this jump to the increased interest in TOPS.

Many states who see increased numbers of students taking the ACT see a corresponding drop in scores, according to Robert Ziomek, Director of ACT’s Research Department. This drop may reflect economically disadvantaged students who take the test, as well as other factors. "It’s a good sign that the number of students taking the ACT in Louisiana has gone up while scores have remained relatively stable," he said.

Foster said he is committed to funding the TOPS program. "We’re committing the money because it’s an investment in the future of our state," he said. "More important, it’s an investment in the future of our children."

Foster presented certificates to five students representing each of the TOPS award categories at the Aug. 19 ceremony at LSU. He applauded their achievements as well as the accomplishments of the more than 13,000 Louisiana students who had thus far qualified for a TOPS college scholarship this year.

Rep. Charles McDonald, author of the legislation which created TOPS, J.B. "Hunt" Downer, speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives, and Jack Guinn, Executive Director of the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance, the state agency which administers the TOPS awards, were also on hand at the ceremony which took place at the LSU Union Theater.

fosterpic.TIF (59314 bytes) Gov. Mike Foster congratulates TOPS scholars

The five students were randomly selected to represent all students who were awarded TOPS scholarships in each of its five categories. Each representative awardee was introduced by the president or chancellor of the school he or she is attending this fall.

Our Lady of the Lake College President James W. Firnberg introduced Amanda McCarley, representing the TOPS Opportunity Award. McCarley is a 1997 graduate of Live Oak High School in Denham Springs, where she earned a 3.3 GPA and received a score of 21 on the ACT. She is currently beginning her sophomore year at Our Lady of the Lake College, where she is studying to become a hospital surgical technologist.

topsawardpres.TIF (60876 bytes) TOPS Teacher Award recipient Kaycie Hebert, LSU Chancellor William Jenkins, LOSFA Executive Director Jack L. Guinn, Rep. Charles MacDonald, Gov. Mike Foster, Education Policy Adviser Louann Bierlein and Sen. Tom Greene applaud TOPS awardees at the Aug. 19 ceremony at LSU.

Southeastern Louisiana University President Sally Clausen introduced Bradley Stevens, a past recipient of the Louisiana Honors Scholarship being "grandfathered" into the TOPS Performance Award. He is a 1997 graduate of Amite High School, where he graduated with a 4.0 GPA and earned a 24 on the ACT. Bradley will be a sophomore at Southeastern, where he is a student in the College of Basic Studies with plans to pursue a degree in nursing. From there, he plans to study law.

Southern University freshman Tia Spears represented students receiving the TOPS Honors Award. She is a 1998 graduate of Baton Rouge Magnet High School where she earned a 3.8 GPA and received a 30 on the ACT and will be pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business administration at Southern. Her goals are to earn a master’s degree and start her own business. Her aspiration is to own her own sports team. Spears was introduced by Southern University Chancellor Edward Jackson.

LSU Chancellor William Jenkins recognized Kaycie Hebert, a second-year TOPS Teacher Award recipient. Hebert will be a senior this year at LSU majoring in education with a concentration in English. She is a graduate of Baton Rouge Magnet High School, where she earned a 3.7 GPA. She is in the LSU College of Education Holmes Program, which will allow her to earn a master’s degree in five years. Her goal is to teach elementary school.

Representing the TOPS Tech Award recipients was Amanda Roh, who will be entering Delgado Community College this fall, pursuing an associate degree in criminal justice. Her goal is to become a state trooper. At St. Bernard High School, Amanda earned a 3.2 GPA and scored 19 on the ACT. Delgado President Terence Kelly introduced Roh to the assembly.


HEA Reauthorized Oct. 7


On October 7, 1998 President Clinton signed the 1998 amendments to reauthorize the Higher Education Act of 1965. LOSFA’s executive staff, Committees of the National Council for Higher Education Loan Programs and the Common Manual Policy Committee are all busy analyzing the new requirements of the HEA so that guarantors, lenders and schools can revise and update their policies and their systems. The 1998 Reauthorization includes a number of important changes which affect schools, lenders and guarantors participating in the FFELP programs.

The November Newsline will print details of these changes including the privileges and responsibilities of guarantors and lenders, borrowers in irregular circumstances, blanket certificates of guarantee, loan forgiveness programs for teachers, loan forgiveness for child care providers, use of master promissory note forms, the definition of eligible lender and the Plan for Doing Business requirement.




Newsline has a new e-mail address. Write Newsline at for address changes or to keep us abreast on news, updates and information.


The Student Tuition Assistance and Revenue Trust (START) Program also has a new e-mail address, start@osfa. E-mail START for general program information or information on existing accounts. START is also on the air: listen for radio ads and look for television commercials highlighting the program. Keep your eyes peeled for billboards advertising this innovative way to save for college expenses. START applications are still available at parish libraries statewide. Remember, the open enrollment period for START ends November 1.

The University of New Orleans welcomed three new financial aid counselors to their staff: Stephanie Battaglia, Denise Hall and Brian Williams.


Deborah Ephrom is the new financial aid director at Southern University in Baton Rouge, replacing Cynthia Tarver.

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) has released a web version of the 1999-2000 Financial Aid Night slide presentation and guide. Both are designed to provide high school guidance counselors the basic information necessary to conduct a financial aid night presentation. An online version of the slide show may be viewed at or may be downloaded using Microsoft PowerPoint. The 36-slide show covers just about every aspect of student financial aid, including scholarships, grants, loans and employment opportunities.

The U.S. Department of Education has two student financial aid training events planned for high school guidance counselors this fall. A live videoconference is scheduled for Thursday, November 5, at 12 p.m. The videoconference will discuss the FAFSA, FAFSA on the Web, calculating expected family contribution (EFC), current federal student aid resources and ideas for organizing a financial aid night. For a list of viewing sites, call the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FAIC) at (800) 433-3243. Videotapes of the conference will be available after November 23.

The second Department of Education event is a one-day training workshop which includes the same topics addressed in the videoconference, but in more detail. The workshop begins at 8:30 a.m. and runs until approximately 2:30 p.m. Thirty-three of these workshops are scheduled around the United States. The closest one to Louisiana is in Dallas on December 1-3, but there are also workshops in Kansas City, Chicago, Atlanta, Denver and other cities. Call (800) 341-5682 to register. A three-digit code is assigned to each workshop; for the Dallas dates, the codes are 018 (for December 1), 019 (for December 2) and 020 (for December 3). For codes for other sites or for more information, call (202) 205-2667. There is no charge for the workshop or materials, but participants will need to make their own arrangements for lodging, transportation and meals.


November holidays: LOSFA offices will be closed Tuesday, November 3 (Election Day), Wednesday, November 11 (Veterans Day), and Thursday, November 26 (Thanksgiving). As of publication of this Newsline, Friday, November 27, has not been declared a holiday by the Governor.


TOPS Recipients Honored at Governor’s Mansion

Five student recipients of Louisiana’s Tuition Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) were invited to dinner at the Governor’s Mansion on September 29, 1998. The five lucky students had their names drawn from among more than 1,500 TOPS Scholarship recipients who attended a ceremony in their honor at Louisiana State University on August 19.


Flooding and road closures in the New Orleans area resulting from Hurricane Georges prevented the two invited students from the University of New Orleans from attending. A luncheon at the mansion in their honor will be rescheduled for a later date. Those students who were in attendance and their guests were LSU students Emily Perryman and her guest Julie Dupont (also an LSU student); Arika Pierce and her father James Pierce; and Brandon Lagarde and his father Harold Lagarde.


Other attendees included Gov. Mike Foster, Rep. Charles McDonald, Chairman of the Louisiana House Education Committee; Sen. Tom Greene, Chairman of the Louisiana Senate Education Committee; LSU Chancellor William Jenkins; UNO Chancellor Gregory O’Brien; Steve Perry, Gov. Foster’s Chief of Staff; Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance Executive Director Jack Guinn and Communications Director Gus Wales; and Governor’s Mansion Coordinator Susan Afeman and Assistant Coordinator Melissa Riser.


The students and their guests were greeted by Gov. and Mrs. Foster. The candlelight dinner was served in the mansion’s main dining room.


Gov. Foster congratulated the students on their achievements and pledged his continued support of the TOPS program, despite the fact that the cost of the scholarship program is significantly higher than originally anticipated. The students were also congratulated by Sen. Greene, Rep. McDonald and Perry, all of whom urged them to make the most of this opportunity by studying hard, earning their degrees and remaining in Louisiana after graduation.

govdinner.TIF (56728 bytes) Pictured at the Governor's Mansion dinner honoring TOPS scholarship award recipients are: (seated, left to right), LSU students Arika Pierce and Brandon Lagarde, Gov. Mike Foster and First Lady Alice Foster, and LSU student Emily Perryman; (standing, left to right) LSU Chancellor William Jenkins, Rep. Charles MacDonald, LOSFA Executive Director Jack Guinn and UNO Chancellor Gregory O'Brien.


1999 Grads Must Meet New TOPS Challenges

The challenge to earn one of Louisiana’s TOPS scholarships will be tougher for the state’s 1999 high school graduates. Not only must they achieve a higher score on the American College Test (ACT) than their 1997 and 1998 counterparts, they must also submit forms earlier and have completed two years of a foreign language during high school.


TOPS, the Tuition Opportunity Program for Students, awards college scholarships to Louisiana students meeting certain criteria. To receive a TOPS Opportunity award, 1999 high school graduates must score a 20 on the ACT. Graduates in 1997 and 1998 had only to score a 19 to qualify for the TOPS Opportunity Award.


This increase in the required score resulted from the average Louisiana ACT score increase from 19.4 in 1997 to 19.5 in 1998. TOPS recipients must score at least as high as the state’s prior year average rounded to the nearest whole number.


1999 graduates will have to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by April 15, 1999. The FAFSA is the only application necessary and begins the TOPS certification process. The earlier filing date will allow the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOSFA), the state agency administering the scholarship program, to provide earlier and faster processing of TOPS awards to 1999 graduates.


Unlike 1997 and 1998 grads, 1999 grads will be required to complete all 16.5 units of college preparatory classes, including two units in the same foreign language. Individual courses may only be waived for students with documented exceptionalities or disabilities which prevent them from completing the course. Also, courses may still be waived if they were not taught at the student’s high school. This last exception is effective only for graduates through the year 2000.


Students who transfer high schools after taking the ACT should inform LOSFA by letter before May 1, 1999. They should include the name and code of their present school as well as the school they were attending when they took the ACT. Students who notify LOSFA by May 1 should not experience a delay in processing their applications.


Don't Blow Your


Graduating in 1999?

To qualify for TOPS, you need to know this!

The minimum ACT score required to qualify for the TOPS Opportunity Award will be 20.

File the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for school year 1999-2000 by April 15, 1999. If you file the form after that date, you will not be assured of receiving a notice of eligibility prior to your enrollment for college classes in the fall.

All courses in the TOPS curriculum must be completed, including two units in the same foreign language, unless the course is not available at the high school you attend.

ACT (American College Test)

A qualifying score on the ACT assessment test must be achieved on or before the April national test date in the academic year in which you graduate from high school.

Take the official ACT assessment test as often as you choose; your highest score earned on or before the April national test date in the year you graduate will be the one considered.

When registering for the 1998-99 ACT assessment test, your social security number must be entered correctly in item C, the year you will graduate from high school must be entered in item K and the code for the high school from which you will graduate must be entered in item L.

If you change high schools after taking the ACT test, advise the Office of Student Financial Assistance by May 1, 1999.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) School Year 1999-2000

The social security number that you enter in question 8 of the FAFSA must be the same as that entered on your ACT test registration form.

Complete those questions about citizenship, residency and date of residency pertaining to you and your parents (questions 14, 25, 26, 27, 79, 80 and 81 on the form).

Make sure that you enter a Louisiana public or private college or postsecondary school to receive the information from this application (questions 83 through 93 on the form).

Auditors Review TOPS Certification Forms

Auditors for the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOSFA) had a surprise in store for them as they reviewed high school certifications for Tuition Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) awards.

"I expected the high schools to be much more liberal in certifying students for TOPS," said LOSFA Audit Supervisor Susan Michelli. "We were afraid high schools had qualified students who shouldn’t be qualified. On the contrary, we found roughly a hundred students who should receive an award and were not going to. Of course we instructed the schools to make those corrections right away, and we will continue to audit schools."

Miscalculated grade point averages (GPAs), improper conversions of GPAs to the 4.0 grading scale and inaccurate reporting of core units and foreign language units contributed to the mistaken lack of certification for some eligible students. "High school counselors generally did a good job," the auditors’ report read, but "did not pay enough attention to detail and did not check their figures/data before returning the certifications to LOSFA." The report suggested additional training at guidance counselors’ workshops, simplification of instructions for completing the certification and greater clarity on areas regarding substitutions and exceptions for college preparatory core curriculum units.

A major concern expressed by some high school counselors is that students may be deterred from taking honors courses if the formula used for weighted course conversion adversely affects their grades. Under the official TOPS conversion method, students making B’s in honors courses will not receive as much credit as students making A’s in regular classes. The official formula, however, does give added weight to honors courses, which in most if not all cases helps the student.

The auditors also noted the fact that GPA calculation methods vary among the schools. Some schools calculate mid-term and final grades together while other schools use final grades only. Additionally, one school excluded F’s earned on courses which were retaken and passed later when calculating its GPAs. All high schools are supposed to include all attempted courses.

Yet another concern is that GPA requirements (2.5) may be too low. Many students’ transcripts showed C’s and D’s in core subjects and A’s in non-required subjects such as physical education, Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) and band, bringing the GPA up to 2.5 or slightly higher. There is concern that students with low grades in core subjects may experience difficulty maintaining the required GPA in college. A solution to that problem may be, the report suggests, basing the GPA on performance in the core courses.

The auditors performed site reviews at 10 high schools throughout the state, seven public and three private, which represents a proportional mix of private and public schools. They reviewed the records of every student included on the schools’ TOPS Certification Listing.

Michelli said, "Another thing that surprised me is, contrary to what you hear, the quality of many of the students in this state is excellent. We ran into students who were taking Honors English and Honors Chemistry, maintaining GPAs as high as 3.2 or 3.4 and making ACT scores in the 30s." Adds Auditor Jerry Oubre, "It was a pleasant surprise that every school, even the very small ones, has its group of students making high GPAs and ACT scores above 30. It seems you never hear about these students."

The auditors’ memorandum was incorporated into the TOPS briefing to the Louisiana House Education Committee in September.



Eligibility Extended for Increased Unsubsidized Loans Due to HEAL Phaseout

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) is extending into the 1998-99 academic year the authority of certain eligible institutions to award increased annual loan amounts of unsubsidized Stafford loans under the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) and unsubsidized loans under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program.

The increased unsubsidized loan limits are intended to assist health professions students who are ineligible for Health Education Assistance Loan (HEAL) Program loans solely because of budgetary restrictions placed on that program due to its phaseout.

Eligible institutions — schools that made HEAL Program disbursements during fiscal year 1995 and who have not withdrawn from the program since that time — may award increased amounts of unsubsidized FFELP and Direct Loans for any loan period beginning before July 1, 1999. For loan periods that began on or after May 15, 1998, institutions may award the increased amounts to all otherwise eligible health professions students without regard to those students’ earlier eligibility for HEAL.

The aggregate unsubsidized loan limit for eligible undergraduate pharmacy students is $70,625, less the aggregate amount of any subsidized loans made to the student. The only undergraduate program that has been eligible for HEAL Program loans is the five-year pharmacy program.

Other restrictions and requirements for awarding additional unsubsidized loan funds are the same as those for the prior two years.

Further information is detailed in ED's Dear Colleague Letter 98-G-311.


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