Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Drug Offenders Barred from Student Aid: Some Worry New Policy Could Prove Counterproductive

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Drug Offenders Barred from Student Aid: Some Worry New Policy Could Prove Counterproductive

Article excerpt

Drug Offenders Barred From Student Aid: Some worry new policy could prove counterproductive

WASHINGTON -- Students convicted of drug offenses will be barred from receiving federal college tuition aid for one year from date of conviction and, in some cases, permanently under rules that take effect next summer.

The regulations, which federal officials acknowledge may be difficult to enforce, are based on a law enacted last year to reduce waste in the student loan system. Critics contend the new rules are counterproductive.

"It's kind of backward to deal with a drug policy by denying people an education," says Jamie Pueschel, a 1998 college graduate who is now the legislative director of the Washington-based U.S. Student Association.

U.S. Department of Education officials say the new rules will require students to report any drug convictions on forms for federal financial aid, including Pell grants and student loans. They do not apply to juvenile records, and some students will be able to retain eligibility by completing drug rehabilitation or by having their convictions overturned.

U.S. Department of Justice officials say there's no database designating student drug offenses, but a statement released by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., cites a University of Michigan study that says 33.5 percent of college students had used illegal drugs in 1995.

And a recent nationwide survey indicates that drug use among young adults ages 18 to 25 has risen in the last five years, with 16.1 percent, or 4.5 million, saying they were current users of an illegal drug, meaning they had used the drug in the month before they were surveyed.

D. Jean Veta, the U.S. Department of Education's deputy general counsel, had no estimate for how many students the regulations could affect, but added: "If we find out a student has lied, we not only require repayment of any aid received, but the student would be at risk for prosecution for lying to the federal government.

"We are very concerned about students being truthful about all aspects of the financial aid application," Veta says.

"It is impossible to speculate how this will play out on our campuses," says Dr. Victor Collins, director of multi-cultural services at Virginia Commonwealth University. …

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