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OneRouge Friday Community Check-In (Week 91)

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in EBR, The Walls Project has been hosting weekly video calls with leaders of nonprofits, foundations, city government, and local businesses from a

cross the parish. The intention of these weekly community check-ins is to share information and resources to help the Baton Rouge community respond and recover from the pandemic. Weekly topics range from access to basic needs such as food, medical care, and safety to thought-leaders' insights on equitable opportunities for youth enrichment, nonprofit financial solvency, surge in unemployment, and the disproportionate impact on impoverished neighborhoods in regards to accessing fresh food.


Navigating the College Admission Process

Meeting Notes Prepared by Samantha Morgan (Walls Project)

Britt Kelly (Financial Aid/Career Development Specialist, LOSFA)

Good morning everyone, my name is Britt Kelly and I am a Financial Aid and Career Development Specialist with the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance and Louisiana GEAR UP. I have worked at LOSFA for just over ten years, beginning in 2010 when I was part of the Public Information Division. In 2015, I moved to our Scholarships & Grants division, and then most recently in March of last year, I joined the Field Outreach and GEAR UP division under the direction of Dr. Tireka Cobb. Throughout the many divisions of LOSFA, our purpose remains clear: To promote, prepare for, and provide equity of college access. That mission statement guides my colleagues and me to continually search for new and innovative ways to reach and serve the students of Louisiana.

To that end, our office has several outlets which are available to students and parents 24 hours a day. Our website,, is a wealth of resources with regards to financial aid, FAFSA completion, college applications, and saving for college. We also recently launched a virtual assistant called LEX to help navigate the site. We have expanded our presence on social media; through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube where we constantly share information with seniors about deadlines for the FAFSA, monthly scholarship opportunities, and what they can do to prepare for the transition to postsecondary education. Additionally, our office has developed two new programs to assist students in choosing their path to an eventual career. Unlock My Future takes students through the process of figuring out how to turn what they love into a career, and it also introduces the Five-Point Match which helps students find the postsecondary institution which would be the best fit for them regarding Aptitude, Academics, Cost, Retention, and Social & Emotional factors. Our office also partnered with the Finance Authority of Maine to bring the Claim Your Future game to Louisiana students, which takes them through the process of budgeting their monthly expenses based on the average salary of one of 125 careers.

Our main focus at LOSFA is financial assistance, and we provide many different programs to help students from every background and age range pay for their education. In addition to the TOPS scholarship, we also offer the TOPS Tech scholarship which can be used to pursue a technical degree, technical certificate, or an associate’s degree in select fields of study. The GO Grant is a need-based grant which is available to students who qualify for federal aid but still show significant financial need. Additionally, beginning July 1, 2022, our office will offer the MJ Foster Promise Program to qualifying students. This is a “last dollar” program that would apply to any balance remaining after federal, state, and institutional aid has been disbursed. The MJ Foster Promise Program would be available to Louisiana residents ages 21 and older who are pursuing credentials that align to high-demand jobs in fields such as construction, healthcare, IT, and others. Details for all these programs can be found on our website.

Finally, our office endeavors to meet students and parents where they are by providing many informational resources directly. In response to the restrictions imposed by COVID-19, our office began offering virtual office hours weekly to provide one-on-one assistance with completing the FAFSA. Our staff provides mentorship opportunities directly to our partnered schools, and counselors can request a virtual or in-person presentation on any of the services provided by LOSFA through Calendly. Also, in May of 2021, LOSFA’s Student Engagement Division began hosting Virtual Student Network Groups for students in specific fields of study. These network groups allow students in the Nursing, Engineering, Accounting/Finance, and Information Technology/Computing Information Science fields (with more to be added later) to receive pertinent information regarding their chosen career, offer a safe place for them to commiserate with other students about their struggles and their successes, and connect with professionals who mentor and/or avail internships and employment.

I want to thank Casey Phillips and the Walls Project for allowing me the opportunity to share the work our office is doing to provide all Louisiana students access not only to quality education but a quality future as well. We would love to discuss potential partnerships aimed at expanding our collective work. Thank you.

Joni Leggio (Assistant Vice President, Louisiana Education Loan Authority)

  • Been with LELA for over 30 years. It’s a nonprofit that’s the education arm of the public education authority. Works more with parents and students who are college bound with their financial aid application. We’ve reinvented ourselves over the years. We were in the student loan industry in 2010 when the federal government took over the program. So we took a look at what was needed out there.

  • Students were so much more successful with a one-on-one approach. We went to our board and discussed this service we could offer and they were all for it. We started working more heavily with counselors and providing financial aid workshops. We were actually going on campus. Now, it’s virtual. And even before the pandemic we moved more towards a virtual format, because we are a small staff with a small budget. Traveling wasn’t really working for us. We found it was better to try this virtual method and it really has become effective.

  • We work with high school counselors to provide workshops and in addition to that if students and parents need to follow up on a one on one, they can schedule and we’ll walk with them line by line until they get it submitted. A lot of families we deal with are first generation students and they didn’t deal with that, so they are just lost.

  • We are contracted with a very knowledgeable, Anne Carmichael (sp?), she really is on our outreach side under the name of LELA. We offer Anne’s assistance. We’re really proud of our publications that have come out. We used to print and ship 10s of thousands of these, but with budgets the electronic method has been working. It does go through a three step process, creating your FSA ID, going to the website, and making notes of what they used for the login information. We have also made it a workbook as well. IN addition we have our planning guide for seniors. It’s a calendar that can be printed. There are so many deadlines seniors have to meet. We find that it really just puts it in a nutshell of everything the seniors need to get done. We have really seen an increase in students who are struggling to get this done. There is an opt out option.

Heather Freeman, MPA (Executive Director, Admissions & Recruitment Southern University)

  • Southern this year, we did have our 5th straight year of enrollment increases. In Fall of 2021, we had a 17% increase in new, first-time students, which includes a 75% increase of students of Asian descent, 25% increase of students of native American/Alaskan descent, and a 15% increase of Hispanic students.

  • Improving the process of enrollment. A lot of families we work with are first generation students and they do not understand how to navigate the enrollment process, including the cost. From point A to the classroom. We created an enrollment guide to make it a little less overwhelming. That’s the thing students are not understanding. They get the acceptance letter and then they’re not sure what to do after that. We are trying to improve the technology to address the number of students who are interested in attending college. It’s important to support legislature that is supporting higher education, especially our HBCU. We recently were awarded the Carnegie classification. Ten of those HBCUs either maintained or

  • We’re launching a summer enrichment program to support those high school students who met the admissions requirements but might be dealing with learning loss due to COVID. We want to make sure they’re college ready. We are in the process of naming a new chancellor. We’re down to three finalists and we’ll be naming a new president soon.

Tyrin Johnson (Admissions Counselor, Louisiana State University)

  • I specialize in diversity and inclusion. I recruit in Baton Rouge, but also in Chicago, so I can speak to a national standpoint as far as the disparities in our higher education system.

  • Fun Fact I did attend southern university for my undergraduate program and I was part of that historical class. The perspective of attending a HBCU and working for a PWI, you definitely see the differences. It’s interesting to see two land grant institutions are making history year after year. However, we’re in an uphill battle. We’re not meeting our instate enrollment. Why is that? The problem in Louisiana is when you’re deadline with natural disasters and COVID, there are so many disparities across students. You have college preparation, college participation, and college completion. All three things lead to educational attainment across different groups.

  • First reason - college preparation - we’re doing great preparing our students, but one word I’m hearing a lot is virtual, but not everyone has a chance to access virtual. When they come to me as a counselor, I don’t just look at GPA, I look at how they performed during COVID and then going back to a regular demographic. I also look at your parents.

  • Overall, the main problem is there’s a lack of cohesion when it comes to different demographic groups. At home factors make a difference in how the child is prepared. Most students don’t have the information but they don’t have the motivation to support them doing that. I was one of those students.

  • One of the things we’re doing is on-site admission decisions, where we go to schools and we make on-site decisions rather than sitting there and having them apply and go through the whole process. It takes going to the schools and sitting with them face-to-face. This has helped us instate, but we’re also targeting a lot of markets out of state, too. Of course we want to get our feeder schools, but what about those schools we don’t go to as much. Let’s focus on our schools that don’t get as much attention.


Talk about the myth that Louisiana pays kids to go to college and that kids make money going to college. What percentage of the overall cost will TOPS support?

Britt Kelly - It’s a merit based scholarship so they do have to qualify with their ACT and grades through high school. What TOPS pays for is the tuition cost. It cannot go over the cost of attendance. TOPS will pay for tuition and some fees, depending on what school you go to. The scholarship itself is for students in Louisiana.

Ebony Holmes - Our division works with outreach and tops. In 2017 and 18, TOPS was capped whatever the fully funded award amount was. From that point, whenever that 2016-17 award amount was set, it was frozen. So as the schools increase amounts, that is still capped. They can receive TOPS, and they can get other awards on top of their TOPS, because TOPS isn’t going to cover the full thing. For those individuals who think it’s a full ride, it’s not. That’s why we require FASFA completion because they are going to have other expenses.

After you finish FASFA, you get tops and you get your financial package, did you know that by federal law, those financial offers are required to offer your child the maximum amount of student loan with or without your knowledge. Is that true?

Joni Leggio - We always encourage our students to borrow only what they need. They are going to apply all their scholarships and then there’s the max that’s offered, but I’m not sure about that. I can find that out. We came out with a program that will help our existing borrowers. For any students who are out there in that situation, if they’re stuck in a high interest rate, we do offer a refi program. Putting links in the chat.

Encourage students to get their FASFA’s filed for senior class of 2022. We do offer a FASFA 1,000 drawing. It’s random.

Are there higher ed grants available for PTSD youth whose grades were impacted by the trauma?

Heather Freeman - we have been allocated some COVID money through those challenges families are facing during this time. So we have been utilizing money for students to use for tuition costs. There are programs supporting students through that process. There’s not enough support for students going through that process. We are trying to reach those students with the challenges they have faced switching to a virtual format unexpectedly. We are working with them to mitigate the losses they have experiences.

Do these programs actively partner with Headstarts, Housing Authorities, youth shelter programs, migrant and unsheltered student liaisons?

LaVonya Malveaux - You said the operative word at the beginning, engage. That was why Dr. Boutte had the vision of creating the Division of Student Engagement back In May 2021. Our division seeks to extend and expand beyond what LOSFA has traditionally done. To reach those corners of Louisiana that may go unserved as it relates to college access, retention and success.

Student Engagement Division 225-219-7154

Can you speak to the different levels of TOPS?

Britt Kelly - The only difference between the different levels is what it takes to qualify for them and the amount of money that comes at those levels. It’s broken down to three levels. It can be used at any higher education institution in Louisiana. The only restriction is the TOPS tech award. It’s only available for 2 years for technical degrees or vocational degrees.

Casey Phillips - I’m comfortable being transparent about my numbers. My son has worked hard. He did well. He wants to go to an instate school. Even after TOPS, even after PEL, we’re looking at a price tag of about $75,000. I want everyone to understand that if you’re advising a young person to go to college, it’s an expensive endeavor. And that’s just an instate school.

Alfredo Cruz - I have this experience helping a young person navigate this. This person had a TOPS tech scholarship, and no one told her that these are the only classes she can take. Something has to happen during the registration process. I don’t think it’s very clear. I think students and their counselors should understand how it works.

Is anybody training the guardians on this process? Where are those resources at?

Tyrin Johnson - We host several events throughout the year. We have events throughout the entire month of February to help them engage their next steps. We allow parents to go on a panel with our financial aid directors and find out what it’s really all about. Those panels get kind of serious. Parents come in and they don’t sugar coat it. We did host a parent financial aid night. The problem is getting them to actually complete what they have to do. I think a little more needs to be done. We can give as much knowledge as possible, but this is a very intimidating process.

The on-site decisions are being done as a permanent or with conditions to admission?

Tyrin Johnson - Yes, it sticks. We went to New Orleans last week and it pretty much depends what we see from the student. We can also say we need to see more. It’s never a deny, an admit or next steps.

Patrick Tuck - We do host application seminars for students applying for our scholarships. We will project on the screen and go through the application line by line.

Moving beyond admissions, I’m curious about the retention rates of students of color at LSU. Do you have that data?

Tyrin Johnson - Each year since 2017 we welcomed a bigger class regarding diversity.

However, as I mentioned earlier, retention is an uphill battle, especially when it comes to STEM fields. Specifically African American males in STEM fields. Pre-med, Biology, engineering. They’re often not retained after the first year. President Tate is working on that. He’s developing a plan to get students prepared for that before they begin. So now we’re looking heavily at students STEM performance before accepting them, because we don’t want them to switch majors as often. The problem isn’t our overall retention, it’s more with specific colleges. It’s something we’re trying to improve. Scholarships don’t stop at your first year.

Heather Freeman - Recently in the news they discussed how underfunded our HBCUs are and that does create challenges. We’re currently over 65% retention. Usually the reason we fail to retain students is for financial reasons. We do outreach as much as possible to re-engage those students. We have to make sure we’re not allowing our own privileges to let us ignore those students in underserved populations. We want to make sure we are supporting students to be successful. Your education improves everyone. Personal and societal. We try to create career and college pathways for all of our students and that ensures all of our students aren’t just getting in trouble. It’s the work of all of us as a community pulling together to show that there’s something for everyone.

Rev. Anderson - We need to talk about pregnant moms, we need to talk about head start, we need to talk I don’t know one school that is teaching contract reading. We have a digital divide that is massive. We have one of the number one library systems in the country and one of the number one rec systems in the country. And yet when we talk about bridging the digital divide, where these technologies are available, we have the ability to solve these problems when we stop thinking they need to find us. I have worked with all these programs. One of the things we have to stop talking about is loans as if they are separate. They take out these loans without thought of how that's going to affect the rest of their lives. It’s going to affect their ability to buy a home, it can impact whether they can get jobs. We ask these teens to sign away their lives. We need to stop thinking of this as an education thing and how to make this part of the 9 drivers of poverty. Many of them it’s going to be an and/or. I have one son who went to law school and another one who is a carpenter and I can tell you the carpenter is closer to being a millionaire than the one who went through law school. I want us to stop thinking about the end game and start thinking about where are we planting seeds. Lots of money exists outside of loans. My church always gave scholarships.

Patrick Tuck - Our 4H scholarships are not just for LSU. There are several opportunities for kids to go out of state. Any post secondary opportunity, including beauty school.

SK Groll - Some students are signing for loans because they are sold on the outdated idea that their earnings down the road will be enough that it makes the loans viable (especially if they enter college as an intended STEM major). But switching majors is a reality for many students, and challenging economic conditions exist. It’s not just education costs that are increasing, so are housing and food costs. And 17/18 year olds are not prepared to reckon with that reality 10+ years down the line (speaking from personal experience here, and really appreciating this dialogue!)

Perry Sholes - Founder of CELI - We work on part of the backend of the situation we’ve been talking about all day. Really relevant employment opportunities for those students. Our organization was founded in New Orleans, but we are working all over the state. Our purpose is to connect job opportunities for college students. Our applications are open for our fellow and we work with identifying fellows and then connecting them to our corporate partners. We have opportunities to grow our base. This is the Louisiana-based nonprofit that is owned by the state.


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