January 2000 Newsline


TOPS rule for repeat/delete, remedial courses adopted

The Louisiana Student Financial Assistance Commission (LASFAC) at its Dec. 14 meeting adopted several amendments designed to address questions resulting from inconsistencies between academic institutions in the reporting of remedial and repeat hours, and to clarify the fact that summer, intersession and advanced placement credit hours cannot be used to satisfy the  24-hour-per-academic-year requirement for retention of Tuition Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) awards.

As a result of the amendments, recipients of the TOPS Opportunity, Performance and Honors awards may now count remedial hours toward the 24-hour requirement, but may not include summer, intersession or advanced placement hours.

The changes came about as a result of a meeting of the Louisiana Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (LASFAA) Advisory Committee. The committee met in early December to discuss discrepancies between schools in the reporting of TOPS hours.

Specifically, the advisory committee was asked by the commission to look at creating a uniform policy for crediting hours for remedial, repeated and advanced placement courses. The question posed by the commission to the committee was, "Can we agree on some consensus among the schools for the reporting of these hours?"

The advisory committee concluded that in interpreting legislative intent, credit received from repeated courses and advanced placement should not be considered as "earned" for the purpose of meeting the continuation standards for TOPS awards, and therefore should be excluded. However, the consensus of the LASFAA members was that a uniform policy for excluding hours earned by repeated courses was not administratively practical.

The commission then adopted by emergency measure the advisory committee’s recommendation to accept across-the-board all remedial hours required by academic institutions, with the sole exception being the TOPS Teacher Award. The commission also adopted the committee’s recommendation that repeated courses only be recognized if the school reports those hours. To determine if repeat hours are credited for TOPS, the student must check with the school attended.

In a further clarification of the hours requirement, the commission re-emphasized its definition of "academic year" as being the fall and spring semesters (or fall-winter-spring quarters) only, thus excluding any hours earned during summer and intersession terms as well as any hours granted by advanced placement testing.

The 24-hour-per-academic-year requirement compels students to complete a full-time course load each term. "It was the legislative intent for the students to meet at least full-time enrollment requirements," Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance Executive Director Jack Guinn said.


Substitute math course approved


The Louisiana Student Financial Assistance Commission (LASFAC) at its Dec. 14 meeting adopted a recommendation from the AD Hoc Rules Committee establishing Applied Mathematics III (formerly referred to as Applied Geometry) as an equivalent course substitution for the Tuition Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) high school core curriculum advanced mathematics requirement.

The new list of approved substitutions for the advanced math core curriculum requirement now includes: Geometry, Trigonometry, Calculus, comparable Advanced Mathematics, Pre-calculus, Algebra III, Probability and Statistics and Discrete Mathematics and Applied Mathematics III.




New counselors added to Tulane staff: The Financial Aid Office at Tulane University recently hired four new counselors, expanding their aid advisory staff to seven. Joining the staff in early November were Keith Mueller, Adina Collins, Sonda Johnson and Brian Fox.

NSU changeover: Northwestern State University has hired Kristi Motter as acting director of financial aid, replacing previous Acting Director Kenn Posey, who has been named marketing representative with Educaid.

LOSFA goes to SWASFAA: LOSFA’s newly created School and Lender Section (SLS) was represented at the annual Southwest Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (SWASFAA) conference Dec. 8-10 in New Orleans at the Fairmont Hotel. Conference presentations included U.S. Department of Education regulatory updates on the 1998 Reauthorization of Higher Education Act of 1965 and Title IV funding for institutions with distance learning students. In a breakout session, the SLS arm of the agency, which includes Sigmund Morel, Jeff Cropco and Kelly Cormier, along with LOSFA Assistant Executive Director Melanie Amrhein, met with Louisiana financial aid representatives to discuss topics for the upcoming LASFAA Spring Conference to be held March 1-2 in Lafayette.

LOSFA hires publications manager: The Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOSFA) has hired Dawn Love as publications manager in the Public Information and Communications Division. A native of Ruston, La., Love graduated from Louisiana Tech University in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She joined LOSFA from BIC magazine, a national monthly business and industry publication headquartered in Baton Rouge. Love was a member of the BIC production staff for four years, serving most recently as managing editor.


LOSFA to present Parent Night Workshops

During the month of February, the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOSFA) will conduct a series of financial aid workshops for the parents of 2000 high school graduates.

Though the schedule has yet to be finalized, each of the Parent Night workshops will take place from 6-8:30 p.m., and will be held on high school or university campuses throughout Louisiana.

The Tuition Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) will be the primary focus of the workshops. Attendees will be updated on TOPS qualifications, deadlines and recent legislative changes. LOSFA representatives will also provide instructions for completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which serves as the TOPS application.

Because of the great interest in TOPS, LOSFA has requested that attendance be limited to only parents of 2000 graduates. The workshops will continue to be an annual event, thus allowing LOSFA to provide the most up-to-date information to parents in the year of their child’s high school graduation.

Upon confirmation of the workshop dates, LOSFA will forward a complete schedule to all Louisiana high schools as well as the statewide media. The schedule will also be available on the LOSFA Web site, located at http://www.osfa.state.la.us


Students retain TOPS awards

As of Nov. 5, 1999, more than 72 percent of students who received Tuition Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) awards during academic year 1998-1999 have met renewal requirements for academic year 1999-2000.

"This number is very close to the figures we projected back in July when a first-year attrition rate of approximately 25 percent was predicted," Gus Wales, Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOSFA) director of Public Information and Communications (PIC), said.

Of the 23,290 Louisiana students receiving TOPS in the program’s first year, only 6,218 (27.9 percent) failed to meet the scholarship’s renewal requirements. Of those who did not renew, 2,562 (41.2 percent) were canceled because they did not complete the 24 semester hours required during the two semesters defined as the academic year. Another 1,407 (22.6 percent) were suspended from the program because they did not meet the grade pont average (GPA) required to maintain their awards.

"However, the suspended awards may be reinstated if the student remains in school full time and regains the required cumulative GPA within two years of suspension," Wales said.

Students seeking to renew their awards at the end of the program’s first year were granted a one-time extension of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) renewal deadline from July 1 to Sept. 15, 1999 by the Louisiana Student Financial Assistance Commission.

"During that 75-day period our office informed all affected students of the one-time deadline extension," LOSFA Executive Director Jack Guinn said. "This resulted in an additional 2,970 renewal applications."

Only 296 students failed to file renewal applications by the extended 1999 deadline. Those students’ awards have been suspended. They may, however, regain eligibility for academic year 2000-2001 if they file the FAFSA before July 1, 2000.

Looking at renewal levels within each of the three largest categories of TOPS awards – Opportunity, Performance and Honors – a dramatic difference in retention is evident.

Recipients of the TOPS Opportunity Award posted the highest attrition rate. Only 64.2 percent of 1997 high school graduates and 63.7 percent of 1998 high school graduates who received the Opportunity Award during the program’s first year were renewed for academic year 1999-2000. Initial requirements for the Opportunity Award are a cumulative high school GPA of 2.50 on a 4.00 scale and an ACT score of 19 for 1997 and 1998 graduates. Once enrolled in college, retention requirements are a minimum of 24 credit hours earned each academic year, a cumulative GPA of 2.30 at the end of the first academic year and 2.50 each successive academic year.

Recipients of the TOPS Performance Award performed significantly better with 89.6 percent of 1997 high school graduates and 90.2 percent of 1998 high school graduates achieving renewal. Initial requirements for the Performance Award are a cumulative high school GPA of 3.50 on a 4.00 scale and an ACT score of 23. Retention requirements are a minimum of 24 credit hours earned each academic year and a cumulative GPA of 3.00 at the end of each academic year. Recipients of the Performance Award who fall short of the 3.00 GPA requirement may be renewed at the Opportunity Award level, provided they have the required continuation GPA for that award.

Recipients of the TOPS Honors Award achieved the greatest rate of retention, with 93.6 percent of 1997 high school graduates and 93 percent of 1998 high school graduates earning renewal. Initial requirements for the Honors Award are a cumulative high school GPA of 3.50 on a 4.00 scale and an ACT score of 27. Retention requirements are a minimum of 24 credit hours earned each academic year and a cumulative GPA of 3.00 at the end of the academic year. Recipients of the Honors Award who fall short of the 3.00 GPA requirement may be renewed at the Opportunity Award level, provided they have the required continuation GPA for that award.

"As you can see, our highest attrition rate is coming from the Opportunity Award level," Wales said. "What this tells us is that the Opportunity Award is appropriately named. This group represents those slightly above-average high school students who are significantly less prepared for college as indicated by lower ACT scores and high school GPA’s. These students are receiving an opportunity to get a state-assisted college education."

For more information, call LOSFA’s Public Information and Communications Division at (800) 259-5626 Ext. 1012.


Reorganization provides enhanced service for schools and lenders

Financial Assistance (LOSFA) recently completed a year-long restructuring effort designed to provide better service to its primary client base of schools, lenders, borrowers and general public. The organizational restructuring has resulted in the creation of two new assistant executive director positions, the formation of a new School and Lender Services Section (SLS) and the reorganization of the former Customer Services Division into a new Public Information and Communications Division (PIC).

The agency restructuring grew out of a Jan. 7, 1999 joint meeting between the Advisory and Ad Hoc Marketing committees of the Louisiana Student Financial Assistance Commission (LASFAC). The meeting had a single topic on the agenda: how to increase LOSFA’s share of federal student loans guaranteed by the state.

At the time, LOSFA guaranteed approximately 38 percent of the Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL) made to Louisiana students. The remaining 62 percent went to out-of-state guarantors. The benefits of increasing the state’s market share developed because of changes brought about by passage of the 1998 Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965.

As a result of these changes, guarantors now have the ability to use a portion of the income generated from fees collected on each guaranteed loan for any educational purpose they wish. This has created an opportunity for LOSFA to generate income to offset some of the costs of administering the state’s educational programs, including its premier scholarship program, the Tuition Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS).

Discussion at the LASFAC joint committee meeting centered on those Louisiana public postsecondary institutions which were not using LOSFA as their primary guarantee agency. Members indicated the main reason for this underutilization of the state guarantee was a perception by some college financial aid administrators that better service was available elsewhere.

Executive staff members include (from left to right): Jack Guinn, executive director; Christy Marchand, executive secretary to Jack Guinn; Melanie Amrhein, assistant executive director; Anna Blaylock, secretary to Melanie Amrhein; Wendy Miller, secretary to Mark Riley; and Mark Riley, assistant executive director.
Committee members reported that some aid officers believed service levels at LOSFA had suffered because of the intense effort made by LOSFA’s staff to implement the TOPS program. The joint committees then concluded that ensuring prompt and complete resolution of loan processing problems would encourage financial aid officers to use the state agency as their student loan guarantor.

In March 1999, LOSFA staffers attended the Louisiana Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (LASFAA) conference in Alexandria, La., seeking state-wide input from college financial aid administrators in identifying perceived shortcomings in LOSFA service.

As a response to those suggestions, and with the approval of LASFAC, the agency began a structural reorganization aimed at providing better client service. The new assistant executive director positions were created to oversee agency support services and agency operations, respectively.

In charge of the new branches are Mark Riley, assistant executive director of Support Services and Melanie Amrhein, assistant executive director of Operations and Aid Programs.

Riley’s Support Services branch includes the following agency divisions: Fiscal; Information Systems; Program Review; and the newly created PIC.

Amrhein’s Operations and Aid Programs branch includes the following agency divisions: Guarantee Operations, which oversees Loan Administration, Pre-Claims and Collections; Scholarships and Grants; START Savings; and the newly created SLS.

Public Information and Communications Division (PIC)

Prior to recent restructuring, the former Customer Services Division, under the leadership of then Acting Director Gus Wales, was the primary arm of the agency responsible for servicing school and lender clients as well as the public. This also included high school guidance counselors, elected officials and TOPS students.

Three former customer service representatives were moved from the division as part of the restructuring. The three have been reassigned as school and lender representatives, thus creating the new SLS. The remainder of the existing Customer Services Division was charged to continue providing support services to the public, but under a new name, Public Information and Communications (PIC). As part of the support systems branch of the organizational tree, PIC falls under the assistant executive directorship of Riley.

LOSFA's new Public Information and Communications Division (from left, first row) Annette Chelette, Gus Wales, Charnia Cheatwood, Rhonda Bridevaux (Second Row) Dawn Love, Mona Krausharr, Amy Dawson, Jennifer Guhman, Janice Lovett, Tamara Holmes, Kristen O'Neil and Michelle Darling.
With Wales as division director, PIC receives all incoming phone calls to the agency’s main telephone line as well as contacts to the agency Web site. These inquiries are mostly basic questions on loan programs and scholarship/grant issues. PIC is also responsible for presentations and browse sessions at high school financial aid events, for conducting guidance counselor and parent workshops as well as the annual Trailblazer camps.

The publications section of PIC produces all agency publications, internal and external training materials, PowerPoint presentations and other mass communication materials and maintains the informational content on the agency Web site.

"This new structure will allow both PIC and SLS to concentrate their efforts on better servicing our respective constituencies," Wales said

School and Lender Section (SLS)

The newly created School and Lender Section (SLS) is solely responsible for marketing LOSFA programs and services to postsecondary schools and lenders and servicing their needs. Personnel in this section are called school and lender representatives.

From left, Kelly Cormier, Sigmund Morel and Jeff Cropco comprise LOSFA's new School/Lender Section.
SLS representatives will actively network with USA Group marketing representatives through field activities and joint LOSFA/USA Group workshops and presentations. In addition, SLS will coordinate agency participation in USA Group services marketing efforts in Louisiana.

The new school and lender representatives will participate in all LASFAA activities and will represent the agency at their meetings. As part of the operations branch of the organizational tree, SLS reports directly to Assistant Executive Director Amrhein.

Each postsecondary school and lender has been assigned a specific representative. A list of SLS representatives, their assigned regions and their contact numbers follows.

 Please contact your designated representative with any questions, concerns, problems or suggestions for better service.

Sigmund Morel, SLS supervisor, services Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Hammond and Thibodaux. Morel can be contacted by phone at (800) 259-5626 Ext. 7727 or by e-mail at smorel@osfa.state.la.us.  Jeff Cropco services north Louisiana.  Cropco can be contacted by phone at (800) 259-5626 Ext. 1682 or by e-mail at jcropco@osfa.state.la.us.  Kelly Cormier services south Louisiana/New Orleans. Cormier can be contacted by phone at (800) 259-5626 Ext. 7692 or by e-mail at kcormier@osfa.state.la.us.

Don't Blow Your TOPS Renewal

            Opportunity Award:
                First academic year                      2.30
                    Subsequent academic years     2.50
            Performance Award:                         3.00
            Honors Award:                                  3.00
            Teacher Award:                                 3.00
            Tech Award:                                      2.50

High school guidance counselors from around the state took part in eight different workshops across Louisiana.

Guidance counselors attend workshops

Almost 600 Louisiana high school guidance counselors recently attended seven LOSFA-sponsored workshops presented statewide, Dec. 1-14.

The 1999 workshops, presented by LOSFA’s Public Information and Communications (PIC) Division, were held in Alexandria, Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, Lafayette, Monroe, New Orleans and Shreveport, La.

Each workshop provided overviews of the agency’s programs including the START Saving Program, Trailblazers, upcoming parent workshops, the LOSFA Student Loan Guarantee and the Louisiana College Payment Plan. The Tuition Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) proved a chief area of concern and inquiry. The thorough TOPS presentation addressed revisions to the core curriculum, special accommodations and waivers, the availability of TOPS updates on the Web, the status of the process to date as well as a summary of the 1999 award program.

LOSFA representatives guided the counselors through sessions detailing recent legislative action affecting the TOPS program, online certification procedures and eligibility inquiries, and student rights and responsibilities. Financial aid administrators and/or counselors from various colleges shared information on the "Basics of Financial Aid." Instruction on how to surf the Web for financial aid and properly fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Financial Aid (FAFSA) were also covered.

LOSFA wishes to extend its gratitude to the following workshop sponsors, whose generosity made this year’s schedule possible: American Express, Bank One, Campus Federal Credit Union, Citibank, First United Bank, Louisiana Education Loan Authority (LELA), Sallie Mae, SunTrust Education Loans, Union Planters Bank and Whitney Bank.

Equally valuable was the participation of university financial aid administrators and counselors who addressed the "Basics of Financial Aid." Many thanks to Raymond Boswell (Louisiana State University, Alexandria), DeWayne Bowie (University of Louisiana, Lafayette), Janice Chapman (Bossier Parish Community College), Chuck Dobrinick (University of Louisiana, Monroe), James LaJaunie (Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge), Taina Savoit (McNeese State University) and Mike Seybold (Delgado Community College) for sharing their experience and expertise with workshop attendees.


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