Experimentation with illegal drugs is a stereotypical college activity. It seems like one of those things that you’re supposed to do in college. Drug use during college is such a societal norm that even the nerds in “Revenge of the Nerds” smoked marijuana!
But, since the passage of the Higher Education Act of 1998, the consequences of getting caught have gotten a new, potentially crippling penalty for college students. Since the passage of the act, those who are convicted of a drug crime will be ineligible for financial aid from the government for a minimum of two years if they don’t have the option to take a drug rehabilitation program.
This hasn’t proved to be a very effective deterrent for keeping young people from engaging in these near ritual experimentations. According to crime statistics from the FBI, drug abuse charges for people under the age of 25 have risen from about 512,000 in 1998 to about 621,000 in 2005, an increase of about 21 percent. While the possible causes of the increase in drug charges are many and varied, it does seem quite certain that there aren’t less college students doing drugs. The number of students doing drugs is more likely to have increased than decreased.
So why have this penalty against college students or others likely to soon to be in need of financial aid, such as high school seniors? This penalty isn’t even all that big a deal for every college student convicted of a drug charge. While there are many who rely on financial aid, there are also many college students who don’t use financial aid from the government who would be entirely unaffected. There are students who are capable of paying for tuition on their own, and scholarships abound for those who choose to look for them, and this law doesn’t stop those convicted of a drug crime from receiving scholarships. There are even organizations that set up scholarships for those who have been convicted of a drug crime.
Of course, for those who are convicted of a felony and don’t have the safety net of a good family, finding a way to pay for college is the least of their concerns. Facets of life we take for granted, from getting a job to finding adequate housing, are extraordinarily difficult for those who have been convicted of a felony, which many drug crimes are. No longer being eligible for financial aid just seems like a cruel twist of the knife.
Who is really hurt by this law, then? If it’s so easy to get around this supposed deterrent, then why not leave it in place? Isn’t even the smallest deterrent worthwhile as long as someone is saved from a more difficult future? The answer, of course, is no.
This deterrent, as with any deterrent that isn’t effective, should be removed. Now those who are most affected by this law are those in the lower-income brackets, those who need financial aid the most. Instead of helping those who show promise even though they’ve made some mistakes, the government’s program of financial aid has been subverted to keep those who it could serve best from taking advantage of this opportunity.