Analysis: College aid drug ban challenged

Discussion in 'Marijuana Legalization' started by RMJL, Jan 15, 2004.

  1. I put this article here in the Legalization forum since it's the illegality of marijuana that has initiated this issue and since we can also do something about this by writing and calling our reps.

    Analysis: College aid drug ban challenged

    By Les Kjos

    MIAMI, Jan. 8 (UPI) -- Objections to the policy of withholding federal aid to students who have been convicted in drug cases are surfacing as a review of the Higher Education Act begins.

    Under the act, federal aid is withheld if a college applicant or student has been convicted at any time of drug possession or distribution.

    The provision is likely to be changed this year so it covers only those who are in school and receiving aid at the time of the offense.

    Under the policy still in use, a form entitled the Free Application for Federal Student Aid includes the following question: "Have you ever been convicted of selling or possessing drugs?"

    If the answer is "yes," a follow-up questionnaire is sent. Those with one drug offense are ineligible for aid in the form or grants or loans for one year. Two convictions get two years of ineligibility.

    Students can take a shortcut by participating in an approved drug rehabilitation program.

    Critics say the government has no business prying into this kind of behavior and that it discriminates against lower-income students because they need the grants and loans more than more-affluent students.

    "Our belief is that the drug conviction provision unfairly targets those individuals from low-income families," said Chris Simmons, assistant director of government relations for the American Council on Education.

    Simmons points out that to receive a Pell Grant and several other kinds of aid, the family has to have an income of less than $40,000 a year.

    "I understand that you don't want to give money to those who violate the law, but you can violate the law in other ways and there is no penalty for that," he said.

    "We want to keep the students in the system because they benefit from education and can use it to solve their problems. We just think it's inappropriate for a financial form to target low-income students," he said.

    The provision was written in 1998 by Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind. He said the Department of Education under President Bill Clinton misinterpreted the bill by applying it to offenses committed before they enter college.

    Souder would change the law to make it clear that it applies only to students who are convicted while they are attending a college or university and receiving aid.

    The change has the support of the White House and of Republicans in Congress, Souder's office said. But the Chicago Tribune reported that some Democrats are insisting on a complete repeal.

    Simmons said the ACE will continue to oppose inclusion of questions that don't stick to financial considerations only. He said the forms should not be used as a mechanism to collect information that is not financial.

    "While it still makes it somewhat more palatable, it is still a bad idea," he said. "The questions need to be pertinent to financial need."

    "I believe that if a student is using drugs, he is probably not making the most of his education," Souder said in a statement.

    "That is bad enough if he is paying for his education himself, but it is simply unacceptable if the American taxpayer is footing the bill," Souder said.

    Sue Thau, public policy consultant to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, agrees with that position.

    She is comfortable with eliminating the "reach back provision" but believes those who are already in college should be held accountable.

    "By the time you're 18 you should know better. It makes sense to me. It's a deterrent," she said. "I don't think we want college kids using drugs."

    The American Council on Education says about 47,000 of the 10.5 million federal aid applicants have lost their eligibility every year under the current policy.

    More than 100 student governments have called for the revocation of the entire policy, the Tribune reported.

    Some schools are so opposed that they will reimburse students who have lost aid because of the provision. They include Yale University, Western Washington University, Hampshire College in Massachusetts and Swarthmore College.

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