Aid limits on student convicts could end

A bill in the U.S. House would allow those guilty of drug-related offenses to receive federal financial aid.

Kari Petrie

A bill proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives would repeal a law preventing students convicted of drug offenses from receiving federal financial aid.

Current law provides that any student older than age 18 who is convicted of the possession or sale of a controlled substance is not eligible to receive federal grants, loans or work-study awards.

The law took effect in 2000 as part of the Higher Education Act.

In 2002, more than 29,000 students did not receive financial aid as a result of the law, according to U.S. Department of Education statistics.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., the bill’s sponsor, said the law unfairly targets low-income students. He said they need more financial aid because of their economic situation.

Kris Wright, interim president for the Office of Student Finance, agreed the law affects lower-income students.

“Getting a higher education degree is one of the few ways to get out of poverty,” she said.

Wright said four University students were affected during the last two years. As a result, those students did not attend the institution, she said.

“I think it’s pretty sad,” Wright said.

Rep. Martin Sabo, D-Minn., who represents Minneapolis, said he feels the law penalizes low-income students and supports its repeal.

“It’s unfair and not working,” he said. “We want the maximum number of students to participate in the aid program and move ahead with their lives.”

The law’s penalties depend on the number of offenses and whether the offense was sale or possession.

First-time offenders convicted of possession lose their financial aid eligibility for one year. A second conviction eliminates aid for two years and permanently for a third offense.

First-time offenders convicted of selling are denied financial aid for two years. They permanently lose aid for a second offense.

Students might regain their financial aid if they complete drug rehabilitation programs, but further convictions make them ineligible for future aid.