WASHINGTON (McClatchy) — College students convicted of illegal drug possession could get federal financial aid for the first time in more than a decade under legislation aimed at overhauling the student loan system.
The bill, which a House of Representatives committee approved recently and which the full House probably will consider after its August recess, says that those convicted of selling illegal drugs still would be barred from receiving federal financial aid.
However, students convicted of possession would be able to get loans, grants and work-study assistance.
The new provision is part of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which passed the House Education and Labor Committee on July 21. It would increase the maximum Pell Grant, the primary federal need-based scholarship, and end the private sector’s role in student loans. Instead, the government would be the sole provider of student loans.
As of 2006, nearly 200,000 students who’d been convicted of drug charges — about 1 percent of students across the country — had been denied student aid under the law.
Under current law, students convicted of possessing illegal drugs are ineligible for federal aid for one year for first offenses, two years for second offenses and forever for third offenses. Those convicted of selling are barred for two years for first offenses and forever for second offenses.
In February 2006, Congress softened the law so that it would affect only those who were convicted of possessing or selling drugs while they were in college and receiving aid. Before, the law applied to prior convictions.
Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) was the author of the 1998 bill that revoked student aid from those caught with cannabis or drugs. His reasoning was that if the government is going to pay for your college, the taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for subsidizing a student’s pot smoking or drug use. Because if you’re really trying to insure that a young person doesn’t get deeply involved with drugs, the best way to do that is to make sure they can’t get an education, can’t get a good job, and are forced to deal marijuana or drugs to make ends meet.
Oddly enough, Rep. Souder doesn’t seem concerned at all about alcohol binge drinking on campuses that actually kill students. He sponsored no legislation to make sure that students under age 21 lose their federal student aid if they are caught drinking, for instance. Somehow the drug that leads to the most drop-outs, date rapes, and death of any drug on campus was miraculously spared from his morality crusade and the safest substance of the group – cannabis – was not.