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This page contains a single entry by Westley Annis published on May 15, 2007 11:03 PM.

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Expanding higher ed access for low income students

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A column by Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco

I have always believed you can't allow your income to determine your outcome. My proposed need-based scholarship program provides low-income students with an equal chance to pursue higher education right here in Louisiana.

The rising cost of college and university tuition places a financial strain on all our students and shuts the door on many Louisianans who simply cannot afford the price tag. Too many students are forced to take time off from their studies to work while others incur large personal debts to cover the cost of tuition and other expenses. In fact, Louisiana is ranked 12th in the nation in student debt, with our graduates owing on average more than $18,000. Such costs leave countless students behind.

A student's income level should no longer control their ability to pursue an education in our state.

Our budget surplus and sound fiscal outlook create tremendous opportunities for Louisiana. As part of my targeted investments in education, I am asking legislators to open the door of opportunity for students by establishing Louisiana's first substantial need-based scholarships program.

This $15 million initiative offers up to $2,000 annually for qualified full-time students. Part-time students may be eligible for $1,000 each year. First-time students who meet federal Pell Grant requirements and are enrolled at any Louisiana public community and technical college or university will be eligible, along with adult students yearning to get back to college.

Because most grants, scholarships, and financial aid only cover tuition costs, students are left facing the rising cost of books and fees needed for their studies. This program fills the gap.

Early estimates reveal this program may help 25 percent of Louisiana's incoming freshmen, but this program intends to improve higher ed access for all our people. These grants will help older students who are looking to arm themselves with a particular degree or vocational training before returning to the workforce.

We see the results of other Louisiana programs, like the TOPS scholarship program, that were recently created to help our students cover tuition costs. Louisiana has several successful merit-based programs helping our students, but we need a greater investment in need-based aid. Currently, only 1.3 percent of the aid offered in Louisiana is need-based while the national average is 74 percent. Today, we are presented with an opportunity to further expand access to education by easing the financial strain on students who need it most. It's time for Louisiana to stop lagging behind and make a critical investment to expand access to higher education across our state.

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