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What can you do to get an affordable education in Louisiana? For starters, do well in high school. The state’s Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, or TOPS, is a series of scholarships for Louisiana high school graduates who are going on to pretty much any postsecondary program in the state. We cover TOPS in our extensive section on state financial aid, followed by a breakdown of government agencies and nonprofit programs that can help you save big on bills.
Starting out as Hammond Junior College in 1925 with a faculty of three women and two men and 40 students, Southeastern Louisiana University is now the state's third-largest public university with more than 15,600 students and offering more than 60 degree programs. Entering freshmen with excellent scholastic records may be eligible for the Freshmen Honor Scholarships (up to $3,000 per year). An additional housing stipend (up to another $3,000 each year) may accompany this award for qualified recipients. Transfer students may be eligible for the Senator Ben Nevers Transfer Scholarships. This program basically awards the same benefits as the Freshmen Honor Scholarships, but may have different qualifying criteria for transfer students.
Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, Louisiana is a public research university and space-grant college that ranked 201st in U.S. News & World Report's 2015 list of the best national universities. Financial aid is provided to 94% of full-time beginning undergraduates, with 65% of these students receiving institutional grants or scholarships. Incoming freshmen are eligible for merit-based scholarships that range between $1,200 and $14,700 per year depending on GPA and ACT score. Transfer students are eligible for the Outstanding Student Transfer Scholarship, which ranges between $1,000 and $2,000 per year and is also based on GPA and ACT score. Freshmen who are National Merit Finalists are eligible for the National Merit Scholarship, which covers tuition, fees and housing for four-years.
Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
In Louisiana, college students can transfer credits between colleges and universities within the state. It is particularly easy to transfer core lower division courses, and Louisiana even offers a Transfer Degree Guarantee that enables students to make an easy transition from a two-year community college to a four-year public university in Louisiana.
To facilitate transfer of credits between schools in the state, Louisiana has a common course catalog. This catalog offers common course numbering and statewide common course descriptions. Schools recognize these common courses and accept credit from students who have taken a Louisiana statewide common course. Most courses are lower-level core education, but many upper level science courses are also available.
With the Louisiana Transfer Degree Guarantee, Louisiana students can take advantage of guaranteed transfer of associate degrees. Students are able to create a degree plan and meet program associate degree requirements at a two-year technical or community college. Provided the 60 hours are complete and a minimum grade of C is earned for each course, all 60 hours of coursework are guaranteed to transfer to a public four-year college or university in Louisiana. Students who transfer with an associate degree will enter the college or university with junior standing.
To find out how all of your completed coursework might apply to a new degree, visit the Louisiana Regents Master Course Articulation Matrix. The matrix shows common course numbers and titles and which colleges and universities within the state offer them.
The Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOSFA) is the home of Louisiana college financial aid, with the state’s TOPS Scholarship Program being the best bet for funds for graduating high school seniors who want a cheap route to college. If you’re not eligible for TOPS, either because you’re a nontraditional student or because you don’t meet the academic guidelines, LOSFA has other scholarships and grants to look over, as well as the START Saving Program, a state-specific 529 fund. Most of LOSFA’s scholarships (even those which aren’t tied to financial need) are determined automatically after students submit the FAFSA. That’s why it’s essential that students take the step to fill out the form accurately. Regardless of your situation, you can get help filling out the FAFSA for free from College Goal Sunday, and then see what federal and state aid and affordable loans you qualify for.
Summary: The Go Grant is the state’s sole mechanism for providing need-based financial aid. The award, which ranges from $300 to $3,000 a year, targets students who come from families with modest incomes, as well as adult learners returning to school.
Eligibility: Louisiana residents are automatically considered if they have remaining financial need after taking into account all other awards from other sources.
How to Apply: Submit the FAFSA. Your award will be given automatically if you qualify, although you must submit the Renewal FAFSA in subsequent years to retain eligibility.
Summary: The Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries encourages students to major in forestry, wildlife science or marine science by offering a $2,000-per-year scholarship to undergrads and a $3,000-per-year award to graduate students.
Eligibility: Louisiana residents who are full-time students in a Louisiana public college can apply once they declare their major and complete 60 total credit hours with a 2.5 GPA (3.0 for graduate students).
How to Apply: Submit the FAFSA between January 1st and July 1st. Turn the scholarship application in to LOSFA along with your college transcripts by July 1st. Provided you maintain full-time status and a minimum GPA, you can receive the award three time as an undergraduate and twice as a graduate student.
Summary: The highest rung of TOPS, the Honors Award pays not only full tuition at a public state college but also an $800 annual stipend. Students going to one of Louisiana’s 10 four-year private colleges receive an amount equivalent to public college tuition along with the stipend.
Eligibility: Louisiana residents qualify by scoring a 27 on the ACT and earning a 3.0 GPA across 19 core courses in high school. They must enroll as a full-time student within one year of graduating.
How to Apply: Submit the FAFSA between your high school graduation date and July 1st to be credited with TOPS funding on your first college bill.
Summary: The third rung of TOPS, the Opportunity Award pays full tuition at a public state college. Students going to one of Louisiana’s 10 four-year private colleges receive an amount equivalent to public college tuition.
Eligibility: Louisiana residents qualify by scoring a 20 on the ACT and earning a 2.5 GPA across 19 core courses in high school. They must enroll as a full-time student within one year of graduating.
How to Apply: Submit the FAFSA between your high school graduation date and July 1st.
Summary: The second-highest rung of TOPS, the Performance Award pays not only full tuition at a public state college but also a $400 annual stipend. Students going to one of Louisiana’s 10 four-year private colleges receive an amount equivalent to public college tuition along with the stipend.
Eligibility: Louisiana residents qualify by scoring a 23 on the ACT and earning a 3.0 GPA across 19 core courses in high school. They must enroll as a full-time student within one year of graduating.
How to Apply: Submit the FAFSA between your high school graduation date and July 1st.
Summary: Students looking for occupational training instead of a bachelor’s degree are also eligible for TOPS. The TOPS Tech Award pays full tuition for such training at a state or proprietary two-year college. Students receiving training at an eligible four-year college receive an equivalent amount.
Eligibility: Louisiana residents qualify by scoring a 17 on the ACT and earning a 2.5 GPA across 17 to 19 core courses in high school. They must enroll as a full-time student within one year of graduating.
How to Apply: Submit the FAFSA between your high school graduation date and July 1st.
Summary: A federally funded program, the John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program repays the federal loans of Louisianans who work as public defenders or state prosecutors for three years. Five awards of $3,330 per year are given to the former and 10 awards of $1,650 per year are given to the latter.
Eligibility: Applicants must have $20,000 or more in federal loans and be up-to-date with payments. They must also be licensed in Louisiana and working full time there as either a state prosecutor or a government employee providing legal representation to disadvantaged populations.
How to Apply: Once you have worked full time as a public defender or assistant district attorney for an entire calendar year (from January 31st to December 31st), you can apply by submitting an online application by April 30th through the Louisiana Award System. You’ll then have to agree to continue your current employment for another three years.
Summary: Lawyers working in civil legal aid typically earn much less than their colleagues in other legal fields. To partially offset this imbalance, the Louisiana Bar Foundation (LBF) gives $5,000-per-year loans to state residents working in civil legal aid so they can in turn pay off school loans. Each $5,000 LBF loan is forgiven after one year of service with a nonprofit legal organization.
Eligibility: Applicants must be Louisiana State Bar Association members employed full time in civil legal aid in the state but making under $50,000 per year.
How to Apply: Submit an application detailing your loans, income and expenses, along with proof of employment and loan paperwork. Awards are given on the basis of applicants’ commitment to working with indigent populations
Summary: The Louisiana Department of Health pays up to $90,000 in loans for physicians and dentists who agree to serve for three years in designated health professional shortage areas. Other healthcare workers can get $45,000 worth of loans repaid by making the same commitment.
Eligibility: To benefit, healthcare workers must be licensed in Louisiana and work full time in a public or nonprofit setting that accepts Medicare, Medicaid and sliding fees.
How to Apply: Apply between April 1st and June 30th. You’ll need to gather quite a bit of documentation, so use this guide to make sure you follow the procedures.
Summary: Louisiana National Guard members don’t pay tuition at state schools for up to the first five years, which is typically enough to earn a bachelor’s degree.
Eligibility: Louisiana National Guard members enrolled in a degree program in the state are eligible.
How to Apply: Contact your school’s financial aid office for details on how to get the benefit.
Summary: Children of deceased or disabled veterans (and spouses of the latter) can attend public colleges in Louisiana without paying tuition.
Eligibility: The program only applies to veterans who were killed or disabled while serving in wartime. The veteran, if deceased, must have lived in Louisiana for a year leading up to his or her service, and disabled veterans must have lived in the state for two years prior to a child’s enrollment. Spouses have 10 years to use the benefit, and children are eligible from 16 to 25.
How to Apply: Contact your parish service office to apply.
Summary: Want to study something that’s not quite offered in Louisiana? The Academic Common Market can help. It allows students to go to out-of-state schools with unique programs but pay the rate for Louisiana in-state tuition.
Eligibility: The program must be included in the Southern Regional Education Board’s directory.
How to Apply: After being accepted to the program, submit an application to the Louisiana Board of Regents along with proof of residency, an acceptance letter and your tax return.
Summary: Current and former Louisiana foster students can get $5,000 for each year of college they attend.
Eligibility: Youth are eligible between the ages of 16 and 21. They qualify as long as they did not permanently leave the foster system before turning 17.
How to Apply: Submit the FAFSA, and contact your school’s financial aid office.
Summary: Students can get $600 in TOPS benefits during their last two years in a public high school if they enroll in college courses that apply toward a certificate in an approved training program.
Eligibility: To be eligible, students must have at least a 2.0 GPA and have scored a 15 on the ACT, as well as have an approved five-year education and career plan on file.
How to Apply: Submit an application, which includes a section to be filled out by your high school guidance counselor.
The TOPS Scholarship can make college in Louisiana affordable. Unfortunately, the rest of life isn’t nearly as cheap. So if you need help paying the bills so you can stay in school, you’re going to have to ask for it. Luckily, there are places where people are waiting to hear from you.
The Department of Children and Family Services is responsible for running many programs that aid people with below-average incomes. Use the department’s LA CAFE web portal to apply online for initiatives such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (better known as food stamps) or the Child Care Assistance Program, which subsidizes day care and preschool tuition for parents attending college.
For healthcare, if the premiums you see on the Louisiana Health Insurance Exchange aren’t affordable even with the tax credit, skip over to the Department of Health, which runs multiple Medicaid programs for cheap (or free). For instance, there’s LaCHIP for kids in low-income families, LaCHIP Affordable Plan for kids in moderate-income families, and LaMOMS for pregnant women without insurance.
The Louisiana Housing Corporation, meanwhile, has you covered if utility bills are killing your budget. It has information on the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which pays a portion of the utility bills for families earning under 60 percent of the state median income, and the Weatherization Assistance Program, which provides free home audits and repairs for the same population.
One benefit of attending a big school like Louisiana State University is that there are a lot of housing options. Specifically, the university sets aside housing for full-time students 21 and older who have spouses and/or children so they can avoid the parties in the residence halls. Some smaller schools also have family housing — Nicholls State University has 20 one- and two-bedroom apartments. LSU-Eunice, on the other hand, has much less in the way of on-campus housing — just one group of apartments, in fact, because it’s a community college. But residents there can defer their rental payments until their financial aid package comes through. And keep in mind that some schools, including Louisiana Tech, require students to live on campus as long as a room is available, unless they’re married or living with parents. To determine what will work for you, use an online calculator to see how living on campus affects your budget compared to living further down the road. This exercise is tremendously useful, as colleges have a habit of overestimating off-campus costs.
With two-bedroom apartments going for cheap rents and on-campus housing prices disproportionately increasing, the calculator may have shown you’d be better off living with a roommate. If that’s the case, you can still leverage the college’s resources to find a place away from the rest of the student body. LSU has an attractive off-campus housing service website that allows you to search not only for a place in your budget but also for a roommate. Consider, too, that living away from campus entails more than just having a different landlord; it also affects your eating situation, as most campus residents are expected to purchase a meal plan. That’s why Nicholls State offers commuter meal plans, which it estimates can save off-campus students 19% to 26% off the sticker price for dining hall meals. Once you’re aware of the costs and ready to find a place, go to LAHousingSearch.org or use student-centric sites like CampusRent.com. If you’re not to the point of being able to afford anything yet, look at the Louisiana Housing Corporation’s list of shelters or HomelessShelterDirectory.org.
What can you do if you don’t want your apartment to turn into a sweat lodge but can’t afford to keep the AC on? The Louisiana Housing Corporation is again a good place to turn for information. Its staff can tell you about the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which pays a portion of the utility bills for families earning under 60 percent of the state median income. Another route is tapping into the Weatherization Assistance Program. Instead of letting all that cool air leak outside through drafty windows and doors, you can get a free audit and repair of your home, thereby reducing energy consumption and, ultimately, bills. Keep in mind, though, that priority goes to certain demographic groups, such as families with children.
If you don’t qualify for state or federal assistance, utility companies often have their own programs, though sometimes these use the same eligibility guidelines as government agencies, as with CLECO’s CARE Program. Still, it’s advisable to see what the utility company can offer. CLECO, for instance, which supplies 23 of the parishes in Louisiana with electricity, also runs the Energy Emergency Deferred Billing Program, which allows consumers to spread payments out over a year if the state declares an energy emergency, and a Levelized Billing Plan, which protects users from summer spikes by making bills roughly equal over 12 months.
LSU has a medical school — two, in fact — and a dental school, but they aren’t likely to come in handy for undergraduates because they are located in New Orleans and Shreveport, not Baton Rouge. No matter. Students typically want to use a campus health center anyway, which all of the schools in our rankings have, with the exception of LSU Eunice. The primary advantage is convenience, though you may need to decide whether to buy a college insurance plan or use the campus clinic as an out-of-network provider from your own insurance. One place where that isn’t a consideration is McNeese State, where the student health fee you are charged alongside tuition gives you the right to use the health center for free if you need urgent care or immunizations. LSU, which has about four times as many students, has a larger system, which includes a laboratory, pharmacy, physical rehabilitation, x-rays and specialty clinics for dental screenings, dermatology, ophthalmology, orthopedic and ear, nose and throat.
One service that is either connected or separate from the health clinic is counseling. And at Nicholls State and the overwhelming majority of colleges, you aren’t charged for counseling, although a counselor will refer more serious mental health issues to an outside healthcare professional. If you’d rather go off campus for help to begin with, call the Human Services Authority in your region.
Students who need to go off campus for healthcare are looking at a field of uncertainty, with the state’s nine “safety net” hospitals for low-income residents facing budget cuts. But there are still community health clinics out there. Find federally qualified health centers at the Louisiana Primary Care Association website or expand your search to include other low-cost and sliding-fee clinics at FreeClinicDirectory.org. For dentistry in particular, use the Louisiana Dental Association’s list of community clinics if you aren’t close enough to New Orleans to take advantage of the lowered rates at LSU School of Dentistry.
It should come as no surprise that a school as large as LSU would have a child care center with separate curricula for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. Full-time students can cut 15% off their child’s tuition, and part-time students get a 7.5% discount. That’s on top of the School Readiness Tax Credit for state-approved child care facilities. If, unlike LSU, your school doesn’t have child care on campus, you’ll still have options with reduced costs. The state’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) specifically targets families in which a parent is going back to school and gives them funds to help pay for child care. Find a licensed child care center at the Department of Education or find one based upon ranking by accessing the Quality Start website.
LSU has Tiger Trails and Southeastern Louisiana University has Lion Traxx. Although the names are both mascot-related puns, the campus transportation services they represent are far different. The former takes students around campus and connects to the Capital Area Transit System so students can go anywhere in Baton Rouge free seven days and nights a week. The latter, though also free, operates four days a week and is limited to stops on campus. If you’re at a school without its own bus or shuttle system, make sure to scan its website for discounts and passes to the area transit system.
You may not realize it because they’re not heavily advertised, but food pantries are popping up on campuses across the country to combat food insecurity. From our rankings alone, two colleges — Louisiana State University and Southeastern Louisiana University — have food pantries. What criteria must you meet before you can grab groceries for the week? You just have to have a current student ID card. For off-campus food pantries, first find the food bank serving your parish via the Louisiana Food Bank Association, then search for pantries near you. These food pantries will want some information about your financial status to make sure you’re eligible for assistance. If you have a baby — or are pregnant — you may also qualify for WIC, which allows you to get free groceries at the supermarket.
SEE ALSO: Our Encyclopedic Guide to Saving Money as a College Student.
If you’re a student at Tulane, in the heart of the Big Easy, you can hop on a streetcar, or if you’re at the University of New Orleans, you can take a regular bus. Both are part of the RTA network, which doesn’t offer student discounts. Rental costs will vary depending on location, though the overall cost of living is still around the national average. Child care used to be cheap in NOLA, thanks to a proliferation of family childcare homes that received public funding. But that’s all changed. In 2005, there were nearly 2,600; in 2016, there were 24. As a result, there are fewer spots for children in child care, and the market prices have risen precipitously even as budget cuts are shrinking CCAP enrollment numbers.
A lot of money has poured into New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina to rebuild the infrastructure and aid shaken residents. Due to well-publicized mismanagement of funds, however, that money hasn’t always reached the people who need it most. The four organizations below represent a sampling of nonprofit actors who are working to get support to those who need it:
This is just a portion of what’s available. To get the full picture, search Vialink.org, the local website connecting residents to resources related to health and human services.
Baton Rouge is a college town, and Louisiana State University — just minutes from downtown on Tiger Trails — is large enough to be a small city itself. Given the high student population, the Capital City has a nice mixture of affordable options for just about everything. Students can get a discount at the LSU Child Care Center, ride around the city for free on CATS, and rent an apartment for reasonable rates. The cost of living is, as you might expect, lower than New Orleans.
Given Baton Rouge’s status as a busy state capital, residents can be certain they’ll find a local or state agency that can work with them to meet their needs.
This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of the social services available. Use the Capital Area United Way’s searchable database to find the types of programs you need.
Louisiana Tech in Ruston is an hour’s drive from Shreveport, which several two- and four-year colleges call home. The cost of living is generally low, especially in housing, but crime rates can be high. The city’s status as a rural outpost — the nearest town even half its size, Tyler, Texas, is 100 miles away — means that unlike Baton Rouge and New Orleans residents, Shreveport’s citizens have fewer options for healthcare.
Shreveport has all the usual nonprofit services one would expect from a small city. Here are a few to look into if you’re having trouble paying the bills or need a little extra help attaining a degree:
Shreveport isn’t just isolated in terms of geography but also in terms of online resources — the federal government’s 2-1-1 service to find local resources doesn’t reach the area. To get the full picture of how the city can assist residents, your best approach may be asking a staff member at Caddy Community Action Agency.