The Mix

Let them go to school

Denying college financial aid to low income students -- who made mistakes and are already struggling -- does nothing to keep them away from drugs and prisons.
The U.S. Department of Education only recently removed false statements from its website regarding the financial aid eligibility of students with drug convictions after the organization Students for Sensible Drug Policy raised objections. While SSDP requested the changes in early June, the change took place after this year’s aid application deadline, denying help to thousands of students.

For those of you who read a personal essay by Marissa Garcia, 24 on AlterNet, you already know that since 1998 more than 160,000 students have been denied financial aid because of prior drug convictions. Garcia was caught with a pipe containing marijuana residue. And even though she pleaded guilty and paid her dues, the government in essence told her that there was nothing she could do to redeem herself. Garcia was not encouraged to get her life back on track by going to school.

This provision was slipped into the Higher Education Act (HEA) without debate or a recorded vote in 1998 by Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN, 3rd District). Since then, more than 180 organizations have risen in opposition to Souder's HEA Drug Provision, such as the National Education Association, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, the Association for Addiction Professionals, the NAACP, and the United States Student Association.

In response to this outrage, Souder has backtracked, but his new proposal still denies aid to students that are convicted while enrolled in college.

There is nothing wrong with a slap on the wrist or a warning (which is already accomplished by a drug conviction), but taking students out of college does not keep them away from drugs and prisons. What’s more, this law punishes only students from low- and middle-income backgrounds. Those from wealthier backgrounds who do not rely on aid are not affected. This law stifles social mobility and undermines meritocracy.

As Students for Sensible Drug Policy states, “It simply doesn’t make sense to push less fortunate and at-risk students out of school for their mistakes. Judges already have the authority to revoke student aid from drug convicts, and universities can expel problem students.”

The House and the Senate are currently considering revisions to the Higher Education Act, including the Drug Provision. Contact your representatives in Congress and urge them to fully repeal the Drug Provision and help young people get the education they need to live productive lives and be responsible citizens.

Take Action: Contact your Representatives in Congress here.

If you’ve been denied financial aid as a result of this policy, the Perry Fund has scholarships for you.
Kristina Rizga is an associate editor at AlterNet. She edits WireTap—AlterNet’s youth-oriented section.
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