Financial aid requires clean drug record

by Megan Boldt

Students with drug-related offenses on their records are expected to report their convictions on federal financial aid applications, according to a provision proposed Friday by the U.S. Department of Education.
Those who do so could be denied financial aid.
The restriction was passed into law in 1998 through amendments to the Higher Education Act, but no mechanism to enforce it had been proposed until now.
Championed by Rep. Mark E. Souder, R-Ind., the goal of the restriction, said one of Souder’s aides, is to help students with drug problems.
“Students have a responsibility to not waste taxpayer funds by using or selling drugs,” said Angela Flood, deputy chief of staff and communications director for Souder. “Obviously, these students are not going to be successful in school if they are involved with drugs.”
She also said they are still in the process of clarifying the implementations with the Department of Education.
“If the case is students are responsible for self-certifying that they have been convicted of a drug-related crime, Souder’s viewpoint is that it’s not enough,” Flood said.
Because the United States has no comprehensive federal database to check, the rule will be difficult to enforce, said a spokeswoman from the Department of Education’s public affairs office.
“It is hard because of that reason,” the spokeswoman said. “There are other ways we can check. Some judges send sentencing reports to the justice department as part of one’s sentencing. Also, some schools may catch students beacuse of the open crime log. Schools might report students if they catch it.”
Officials at the University’s Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid could not be reached for comment.
If convicted of a drug possession-related offense, students become ineligible for federal aid for a period of one year after the date of the conviction. If convicted of selling drugs, the duration of the restriction doubles.
A third offense of drug possession and a second offense of drug sales constitutes indefinite ineligibility.
The Department of Education does not want to deter students from applying for aid.
“They would only be ineligible for federal aid. They can still be eligible for aid from the state and schools,” said the Department of Education spokeswoman.
Some members of Congress do not agree with this amendment, including Rep. Bruce Vento, D-Minn.
Vento is co-sponsoring an amendment to the Higher Education Act to repeal these restrictions, said Erin Sermeus, press secretary for Vento’s office in Washington, D.C.
“There are two main reasons why we oppose these restrictions,” said Sermeus. “One is that it creates unequal grounds for students convicted of drug-related crimes compared to those students convicted of other criminal offenses. Also, this legislation discriminates against lower-income students.”
Flood argues that the only people who are being discriminated against are drug users.
Miko Johnson, graduate student in urban and regional planning, agrees with Vento’s viewpoint.
“This is not giving them a second chance. That is no true way of rehabilitating drug users,” Johnson said. “I know many students would not put that down on the application.”
Klaus Halterman, a graduate student studying physics, agrees that students will not be honest on their applications if they know they won’t get caught.
“It would be a good idea if there is a viable way to check student records,” Halterman said. “They should just perform checks, not rely on students to honestly put the information down.”
These regulations will not be implemented until July 1, 2000. No student will be declared ineligible for assistance until that time.
Questioning of drug-related convictions will not be the duty of the educational institutions; questions will only appear on federal applications.
Application forms for 2000-01 aid application will ask students whether they have had any drug-related convictions; the question will be worded so that students are aware of the possibility for ineligibility.
Students’ ineligibility status will then be reported to the institutions.