$291M cost prompts new look at Louisiana college program

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The nearly $300 million price tag for Louisiana’s much-beloved free college tuition program is sparking continued disagreement over whether the state can continue to afford paying for thousands to attend college each year.

TOPS is credited with improving high school performance and college graduation rates in a poor state that has struggled to boost education attainment.

But its costs have shot up to an estimated $291 million this school year, as more students reached the eligibility standards and as tuition on college campuses rose.

Lawmakers, however, have repeatedly disagreed over how — and whether — to rein in the TOPS program even as the financially-strapped state struggles through years of budget gaps. So, they created a study group to wade into the thorny discussion. Its first meeting was Wednesday.