The FAFSA War on Drugs

The FAFSA War on Drugs
Posted by FoM on January 19, 2001 at 07:23:26 PT
By Leah B. Rorvig, Columbia Daily Spectator
Source: Columbia Daily Spectator
Rape. Arson. Murder. Armed robbery. Possession of marijuana. Of the previous five illegal activities, the average Columbia University student is probably only guilty of one, and only one will keep a student from receiving federal financial aid. Under a provision of the 1998 Higher Education Act (HEA), students convicted of any drug-related offense are denied eligibility for federal financial aid for periods ranging from one year to "indefinite." The Higher Education Act of 1965 provides financial assistance for students in the form of Perkins Loans, Pell Grants, work-study programs and many other loan and stipend statutes. 
In 1998, the HEA drug provision was spearheaded by Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind. The provision passed on an unrecorded voice vote. The HEA drug provision was first instituted on the 2000 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the federal financial aid application form. The question: "Have you ever been convicted of selling or possessing drugs (not including alcohol or tobacco)?" According to the Department of Education, of the eight million-plus students who have submitted FAFSA forms in the year 2000, more than 810,000 left the question blank and had their applications approved because of an enforcement loophole. However, after further legislative activity in 1999 by Rep. Souder, this loophole was closed and now students are ineligible for aid until they answer the question. Aid is currently being withheld from the 7,500 students who did answer yes on the FAFSA form. Problems with the HEA drug provision are numerous and strongly tied to the dilemmas of the futile War on Drugs. The most obvious problem with the drug provision is that it denies access to education for those already most at risk for marginalization -- minorities and the middle and lower classes. The HEA drug provision unfairly targets those who actually need financial aid. Wealthier students don't need the aid in the first place, and when arrested they can afford better legal counsel and are less likely to be convicted at all. The HEA drug provision has a discriminatory impact that mirrors the sort of racial inequity that is characteristic of the War on Drugs. According to the United States Department of Justice, African Americans represent 55 percent of drug convictions, but they make up only 13 percent of the United States population and about 13 percent of drug users. Although the intent of the provision was not to disproportionately deny certain racial groups financial aid, the HEA drug provision will have a racist effect on the American student population. If drug convictions follow a racist pattern, it is safe to assume that the HEA drug provision will have an equally discriminatory effect. The new law does potentially allow for reinstatement of aid eligibility after drug treatment, but this does not take into account the expense and lack of availability of drug abuse treatment. The drug provision is overly broad and makes no differentiation between drug addicts and people who use drugs only occasionally. Supporters of the HEA drug provision fail to realize that drug treatment is not appropriate for many people convicted of drug offenses, especially those convicted only of simple possession. The HEA drug provision, at its worst, is analogous to forcing an underage drinker caught with a beer to enter a treatment program for alcoholism. Fortunately, the provision has not gone unnoticed. Student governments at Yale University, Penn State, George Washington University and more than 25 other schools have all endorsed propositions against the drug provision. The NAACP and ACLU have also taken a stand against the provision, and the provision has received some attention from the national media; Rolling Stone published an article about the growing student opposition movement in October. In Congress, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., introduced H.R. 1053, an act which would repeal the HEA drug provision completely. Columbia's own representative, Congressman Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., cosponsors the bill. Although H.R. 1053 was not passed under the 106th congressional session, the 107th congress will have a new chance to repeal the drug provision. Here at Columbia, activists in Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) will be working this semester to pass an anti-HEA drug provision resolution through the Columbia College Student Council and to distribute professor sign-on letters. The goal of SSDP is to get the University Senate to endorse a resolution against the drug provision. It is imperative that Columbia University provides educational opportunities for those who want them, rather than refusing the opportunity to those who need it most. Source: Columbia Daily SpectatorAuthor: Leah B. Rorvig, Columbia Daily Spectator, Columbia U.Published: January 18, 2001Address: 2875 Broadway, 3rd Floor - New York City, NY 10025 Copyright: 2001 The Columbia Daily Spectator, Inc.Contact: spectator columbia.eduWebsite: Articles & Web Site:Students For Sensible Drug Policy Rise Over Anti-Drug Law That Denies Loans Drug Reform Movement Gathers Steam New Anti-War Protesters
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