Scholarships to Aid Students with Drug Records

Article excerpt

Opponents of a 1998 law that denies federal aid to thousands of college students with criminal drug records are trying to work around the law by offering financial help to those affected.

A coalition of drug-law reform groups last month inaugurated a scholarship for those denied aid because of drug records. The John W. Perry Fund scholarships honor a New York police officer who decried the war on drugs and died saving people in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.

In the same vein, two colleges - Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., and Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania are offering loans or grants to such students. Critics have assailed the law since its inception.

The higher education lobby - whose members range from student activists to college presidents - says the ban unfairly hits some of the people who need aid most, noting that affluent students with drug records don't need federal aid.

Even the law's author, Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., says it's misinterpreted. He meant to bar aid only from students already getting federal aid when convicted, and last month proposed amending the law to make that clear.

The application for federal student aid asks applicants, among other things, "Have you ever been convicted of possessing or selling illegal drugs?"

Those with one drug-possession offense are ineligible for federal college aid for one year after conviction. …