Pat Taylor knew a deal when he saw it. Born June 12, 1937, in Beaumont, Texas, Taylor was drawn to Louisiana State University as a young man because it did not charge tuition. Upon high school graduation at age 16 he headed east to Baton Rouge and completed his studies, earning an eventual degree in petroleum engineering - for free. The lightning-quick Taylor used his discounted education to gain experience. He teamed with established oil man John Mecom Sr. and worked with him on extremely successful drilling operations associated with Circle Bar; and then charted his own course in 1966, when he formed Taylor Energy. Taylor Energy is the only individually-owned company to ever explore for and produce oil and natural gas in federal offshore waters off the Gulf of Mexico. The maverick Taylor presided as Chairman, CEO and President of hugely profitable Taylor Energy until his death November 5, 2004. However, while he was a bold and audacious competitor in the world of business, Taylor’s legacy of providing access to higher education as not only a Louisiana or state right - but as an American one - is his lasting, magnanimous tribute to mankind.
Since 1989, Louisiana children have benefited from the efforts and influence of Pat Taylor, the forerunner of Louisiana’s Tuition Opportunity Program (TOPS) for Students. TOPS began with Act 789 of 1989, which created the Louisiana College Tuition Plan. The “Taylor Plan” or “Louisiana College Tuition Plan” was a college tuition program that targeted mainly disadvantaged and minority children.
The 1989 legislation was only the beginning. Taylor knew more kids needed his help. In 1990, on 60 Minutes, the hour-long Sunday program on CBS, in a report by Mike Wallace titled, “Taylor’s Kids” the story of the wealthy republican businessman who didn’t apologize for his success was plainly told. Taylor, the man, was on a mission to provide real opportunities and real hope for an otherwise forgotten group of minority children.
Taylor’s efforts continued and when the conditions were right, he seized the moment. In 1997, Governor Foster signed into law ACT 1375 and ACT 287 changing TAP to the Tuition Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS). With this law all Louisiana students became eligible for awards based on their academic performance. For Taylor’s efforts Governor Foster issued a proclamation honoring Taylor.
Taylor said what motivated him the most to do what he did was the lack of hope. “I realized that we were raising an entire generation that thought that college was for other folks.”
During his life, Taylor was passionate about his educational ideals. He traveled extensively and spent considerably to promote his bold ideas of universal access to higher education to all whom would listen. He was tireless toward keeping his beliefs heard, and he would be happy to know those efforts have worked, and continue to work! Since 1989, TOPS, or other programs like it, are being administered in 23 states, with Wyoming being the most recent state to join the movement.
Dr. James Wharton, Chancellor Emeritus and current honors chemistry professor at LSU said TOPS has had a tremendously positive impact for the State of Louisiana, and for Louisiana students.
“TOPS helps the kids and the universities because it reduces the remedial work in college, it helps to shorten the time it takes to graduate college, and it increases significantly the graduation rate for college students. Furthermore, it gives poor kids something to work for,” Wharton said.
Louisiana’s Tuition Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) is a comprehensive program of state scholarships and one of the most innovative and progressive student assistance programs in the nation. Since 1989, in Louisiana TOPS has been awarded to 148,500 deserving students. These students must take a specific core curriculum (17.5 units); make the required standardized test score (20 ACT or 940 SAT); meet grade point average requirements (2.5 minimum GPA in core curriculum); and if granted the award the student must maintain grade requirements.
TOPS has been lauded and copied nationally for its numerous merits. By providing financial incentives as a reward for good academic performance Louisiana is also promoting academic success by requiring completion of a rigorous high school curriculum. Moreover, in-state proponents of TOPS say it encourages the states’ best and brightest to stay in Louisiana to pursue post-secondary educational opportunities.
Recent numbers prove TOPS is helping increasingly more Louisiana students toward the attainment of a college degree, as high schools are doing a better job of preparing them for college, which also improves long-term college retention rates. Of the 44,569 high school graduates in the 2004 graduating class, 26,611 graduates (58.6%) completed the TOPS core curriculum. Of those, 14,961 (33.6%) were eligible to receive the TOPS award. Also, according to the 2007 TOPS Reporting System to the House Education Committee by the Board of Regents, records indicate students receiving a TOPS award persist in college to graduation at twice the rate of non-TOPS students. Moreover, the number of first-time freshmen with TOPS enrolling in public postsecondary education continues to increase.
Pat Taylor’s burning desire to make access to a college education a birthright to the motivated Louisianian is a reality. Like in so many other ways in his life, Pat Taylor made a difference - but with TOPS it was different, much bigger.
For TOPS, and more, Pat Taylor’s name bears merit. The appropriate way to honor this great man would be to name the TOPS program in his honor.