In November 1965, Congress instituted the Higher Education Act. The sole purpose of this law was to strengthen the educational resources of colleges and universities and to increase access to higher education through financial assistance.
Seven years ago, a provision was added to the Higher Education Act that delays or denies financial aid to anyone convicted of a state or federal drug offense. Since taking effect in 2000, more than 160,000 students have lost their financial aid eligibility because of the provision. This is in addition to whatever punishment they have received from state or federal courts. Not only does this mean that students are punished twice for their offense but also that their misdeed remains the only class of crime that has a ban on financial aid eligibility.
The provision allegedly keeps students off drugs through the threat of lost financial aid; however, it is impossible to check the efficacy of this claim because many students who are convicted of drug offenses don’t bother applying for financial aid and because many students go through college unaware of the provision.
Invariably, the drug provision in the Higher Education Act hurts those who it was intended to help: middle- and low-income families. These are the people who have to worry about paying for their education but all too often face barriers, like the drug provision, which keep higher education out of their reach. This is to say nothing of the minorities who are vastly overrepresented in drug convictions in the United States.
Three University students were denied financial aid in 2004-2005 because of previous drug convictions, according to the Office of Institutional Research and Reporting.
Only one of them ended up enrolling at the University. Because this is a federal policy, the state and University does nothing to offset the effects of the law. Nevertheless, students can make their voices heard on this issue by contacting their congressional members. A new bill that would clarify the restrictions is up for a vote in September.