Merit vs. need-based college aid

Merit vs. need-based college aid

The cost of a college degree has risen over the past decade due in large part to a de-investment by states in public colleges and universities. While higher education investments have increased somewhat in recent years, an age-old debate remains: whether public scholarship dollars should support the highest academic achievers, or the students with the greatest financial need? Sophie Quinton of Pew Trust has more on the fight across America and how Louisiana’s own TOPS program plays into that conversation: 

But advocates for low-income and minority students have challenged state merit aid programs, pointing to data that shows such scholarships disproportionately help wealthy, white students. Take Louisiana’s Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, or TOPS, which can guarantee recipients close to a full ride at whichever state college or university they attend — or a $5,718 grant to put toward in-state private university tuition. About three-quarters of TOPS recipients since 2007 have been white and over two-thirds have come from families with above-average incomes, a 2019 state report found. Over 18% of recipients came from families that earned $150,000 a year or more. Although there’s no statutory requirement to fully fund TOPS, there’s tremendous political pressure to do so, said Davante Lewis, public affairs and outreach coordinator for the Louisiana Budget Project, a left-leaning think tank based in Baton Rouge. “It’s an entitlement program, typically for richer, whiter families,” he said. Lewis noted that lawmakers spent almost eleven times as much money on TOPS last year as they spent on need-based grants. 


Inside look at Louisiana’s opioid crisis
The opioid crisis hit Louisiana’s urban and rural areas with similar force. But the long road to recovery has led many addicts from rural areas to urban centers like New Orleans, where treatment can be easier to access. The Advocate|Times Picyaune’s Emily Woodruff reports on the critical role of human connections as former addicts try to recover. 

But in Louisiana and other states with large rural populations where opioids have hit hard, one of the biggest hurdles has been providing long-term treatment programs that tackle the isolation and loneliness that are one of the root causes of addiction. The sober-living residence where Christian, Silvis and their roommates live is part of a network run by Oxford House, a national nonprofit that has founded dozens of such homes in Louisiana. Addiction researchers and service providers say that these types of homes are an important stepping stone between treatment and independence, and have prompted some recovering addicts from rural areas to seek out cities like New Orleans as places where they can get clean.


Taking  from the poor and giving it to the wealthy
A new federal rule by President Donald Trump’s administration will take food off the table for an estimated 700,000 Americans – most of them desperately poor – by restricting eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (better known as food stamps). While low-income adults go hungry, the administration is ladling out government aid to farmers who’ve been hurt by the president’s trade war. Gracy Olmstead, in a New York Times op-ed, makes note of the contradiction:  

Mr. Perdue and others in Washington assume that stringent work requirements will push food stamp recipients to find the number of working hours necessary for eligibility. They suggest, without saying so explicitly, that any unemployment currently experienced by these beneficiaries is because of laziness, not lack of opportunity. But many people in both rural and urban areas of America know that reality is a lot messier than this. Available work is not distributed evenly over every state or region. Threatening to take away someone’s food stamps until they find steady work does nothing to solve the problems of postindustrial collapse, community breakdown, economic inequality, racism, systemic poverty, homelessness or drug addiction that have prompted many to find help in the first place — just as a farm bailout does nothing to repair the economic, cultural and political conditions that are feeding our current farm crisis.

Housing voucher discrimination
Housing vouchers are the most common form of rental assistance in America. For those who qualify, a voucher will pay 70% of a person’s rent and utilities, up to a cap. But many landlords refuse to accept the vouchers, which has led several large cities to pass “source of income” laws that ban such discrimination.’s Stephanie Wykstra writes that such laws aren’t always enough:

Advocates argue that greater enforcement is needed, along with further adjustments to put voucher amounts more in line with fair market rents. And in cities with tight rental markets, they are pushing for increased construction of affordable housing. A strong body of research shows that housing vouchers help prevent homelessness, as well as increase long-term health and economic outcomes of children in low-income families. Vouchers are of huge importance to millions of people, but discrimination against people who use them threatens to thwart the progress that’s been made in housing the most vulnerable among us.


Number of the Day
$850The median rent (including utilities) for an apartment in Louisiana in 2018, a 10%  increase since 2001 after adjusting for inflation. (Source: The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)