Drugs and Colleges Not Mixing

Drugs and Colleges Not Mixing
Posted by FoM on April 18, 2002 at 15:57:39 PT
By Michael A. de Yoanna, Colorado Daily 
Source: Colorado Daily
It's been about a year since student groups in Washington, D.C., began efforts to strike the dreaded drug question from federal financial forms. A year later, the forces seeking to repeal the question continue to struggle, as the congressman who worded the law seeks to change it in an effort that would allow some convicted drug users to receive aid.The question - No. 35 on the federal financial aid form (FAFSA) - asks applicants if they have ever been convicted of a drug crime. If the answer is "yes," or even left blank, an applicant can be denied financial aid. 
Students may see their aid suspended for a year for a first conviction on a drug-possession charge, two years for a second and indefinitely for a third.Eligibility for aid can be regained if the student completes a rehabilitation program or if the conviction is found by the court to have been unfair and is overturned.According to the U.S. Department of Education, almost 7,000 would-be students have been denied financial aid for the 18-month, 2001-2002 dispersal year, which ends on Dec. 30. An additional 8,000 already lost financial assistance so far in the year because of a drug conviction.And more than 39,000 would-be financial aid recipients either did not return the form after being asked to complete a worksheet that would divulge details about their conviction or simply returned the worksheet blank, according to the Education Department.Jane Glickman, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said the large number of applicants failing to return their forms should not necessarily be attributed to fears over the drug question."There's any number of reasons they might not return the worksheet," Glickman said. "They could decide to be a ski bum for a semester or look at their grades and say it's not worth it or join the Army."In the 2000-2001 financial aid period, those who left the question blank received aid anyway because the Education Department deemed the question too vague. This year is the first year the department has taken the question seriously.At CU-Boulder, 54 people answered yes to the drug question in the 2001-2002 year, according to CU's Office of Financial Aid. However, only eight were found ineligible and three of those regained eligibility after completing the worksheet.Forty-six of those who would have otherwise been denied aid said their initial response had been inaccurate, according to Evan Icolari, associate director of client services for CU financial aid.Icolari attributed the large number of changed responses to "confusion" over the question, which led some to leave it blank.David Borden, executive director of the Washington, D.C.,-based Drug Reform Coordination Network, predicts this year that a similar number of applicants will be denied aid if a growing movement among congressional representatives fails to strike the question from financial aid forms."We think the question is wrong on several levels," Borden said. "For one, people have already been punished if they are convicted of drug use. Most judges, we think, would consider it good that these people are trying to go to school and turn their lives around."The question could be viewed as racially discriminatory, he added. Borden compared U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics to federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration statistics.While that group reports that African-American drug use is at 13 percent, roughly the same percentage of African-Americans in the U.S. population, the Bureau of Justice reports that African-Americans constitute 55 percent of drug convictions."It's not that African-Americans do more drugs," Borden said, "It is that they are convicted disproportionately. We think drug use is a problem that is rampant in all social and ethnic categories."Groups like Borden's have had success in their efforts to influence politicians on Capitol Hill.Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., introduced a bill asking that the drug question be repealed. To date, 60 congressional representatives have signed on to House Resolution 786 - none of them from Colorado.Groups like Borden's and Students for Sensible Drug Policy are campaigning in states where representatives sit on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, chaired by Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio.Colorado Reps. Bob Schaffer and Tom Tancredo - both Republicans - are members of that committee.Frank, like Borden, called the question discriminatory. He said it disproportionately affects students who are poor, because wealthy students are less likely to need financial aid.To add to mounting opposition to the question on the forms, Stanley O. Ikenberry, president of the American Council on Education, asked Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration Asa Hutchinson to review the question. In addition, because of the question, some university groups, like the one at Western Washington University, are pitching in to help students who are denied aid.The student government there is offering assistance to those who fail to receive financial aid because they answered yes to question No. 35.The CU Student Union has yet to decide where they stand on the issue.However, should the elected student government take a stand, there are indications it would likely urge support for repealing the question."UCSU has been very committed to access to education for all," said Rob Hernandez, the UCSU designate who handles financial aid issues. "Certainly, this is an access issue."The student government might study the issue, but the earliest that would likely happen is August, as students return for fall semester, Hernandez added. Because of elections, that would mean an entirely new student government would address the question.If Colorado politicians are going to take a stand on the measure, they would need to be swayed by students, Hernandez noted."Work will have to come from students if we want to voice concerns about the drug question," Hernandez said.Frank agreed and indicated that students have been the force behind changing the law."Students have responded in a very encouraging way," Frank said.Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., wrote the original drug question. Recently, he has introduced different legislation through Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y. The proposed law seeks to remedy a problem with the current question added in 1998 as an amendment to the 1965 Higher Education Act.His bill would restrict the disqualification of students for drug offenses to those students who committed offenses while receiving student financial aid.The Drug Reform Coordination Network supports Souder's measure, but says it would rather see the question repealed altogether."It's a fix, but it doesn't really resolve many of the issues," Borden said.Source: Colorado Daily (CO)Author: Michael A. de Yoanna, Colorado Daily Staff WriterPublished: Thursday, April 18, 2002 Copyright: 2002 Colorado DailyContact: editor coloradodaily.comWebsite: Articles & Web Sites:SSDP Drug Reform Coordination Network Fund To Help Convicted Drug Users, Sellers Is Responsible for Students Losing Education?
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