College students convicted of drug-related offenses have long placed their financial aid at risk. However, a congressional committee recently voted to put an end to the Higher Education Act Aid Elimination Penalty, which dictated that students convicted of drug offenses would lose access to financial aid for at least a year.
Historically, any student convicted of a drug sale, drug possession or similar drug offense would lose his or her ability to use federal financial aid for at least a year. If you were a first-time offender and your drug charge was for something relatively minor, comparatively speaking, you might only become ineligible for aid for one year. If you have offended in a similar manner before, though, or if your charge was a particularly serious one, you ran the risk of losing access to financial aid indefinitely.
Any student who wishes to utilize financial aid must first fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA form has a question that asks about previous criminal convictions, and this is how the U.S. Department of Education would determine whether you had drug charges that would make you ineligible for aid. If the new bill moves forward as approved, though, it effectively eliminates this question from the FAFSA form, thereby giving you a chance to potentially utilize aid regardless of your past.
Arguments in favor of a change
Those in favor of changing the way the U.S. Department of Education handles students who have drug convictions contend that making college more difficult is an ineffective way to combat the problem. Many argue that continuing your education is your likeliest bet at breaking free from a criminal lifestyle. Others contend that the penalty unfairly impacted minorities, who authorities have statistically been more likely to arrest on drug charges.
Ultimately, steering clear of any drug use is critical if you wish to remain in college and avoid unnecessary hardship. However, it may ease some of your concerns to recognize that a drug conviction may no longer lead to an automatic disqualification from receiving financial aid.