Historically, college students who received drug convictions could lose their ability to access federal financial aid, making it exponentially more difficult for many of them to finance higher education. Beginning in 1999, with the introduction of the Higher Education Act Aid Elimination Penalty, students who received convictions for just about any type of drug crime would become ineligible for financial aid for a year or longer.

This rule appears to be changing, however, with a congressional committee recently voting to repeal it on the grounds that it is counterproductive and not an effective means of preventing drug use.

Arguments against the penalty

Opponents to the Higher Education Act Aid Elimination Penalty argue that increasing one’s level of education is more of a deterrent against drug abuse than penalizing offenders by stripping them of their financial aid. Research shows that denying students access to college because of drug convictions harms not only the students, but their surrounding communities, and that the penalty particularly penalizes low-income Americans who may be unable to finance higher education otherwise.

The FAFSA connection

While appealing this penalty should help more students continue their higher education, the newly approved bill is also going to eliminate a question that has, until now, appeared on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form. The form has a question about whether applying students have ever had any drug convictions, and it has served as a determinant for whether a student may receive financial aid. The question has deterred an unknown number of students from applying for aid, but it is not going to be an issue much longer.

Drug charges are certainly stressful and troubling, but they do not necessarily mean the end of a person’s education. These new rules seek to help ensure that a single mistake does not impact someone’s entire life, and it also seeks to help students pave a path toward success through the pursuit of higher education.

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