College students with drug convictions face financial aid restrictions under a current education act that will be up for revision this summer by Congress.
The Department of Education reported that approximately 198,000 college students around the country have been denied financial aid because they checked “YES” for the question on the FAFSA: Have you been convicted for the possession or sale of illegal drugs for an offense that occurred while you were receiving federal student aid?
Although there has not been an official school-run scholarship available to students who have had drug convictions at CSUN, there have been private scholarships provided in the past aimed specifically at alleviating the costs of their education. Perry Ellis America, a clothing company, provided the most recent scholarship of this nature to CSUN students, but was no longer offered in 2005.
Jannaee Brummell, CSUN’s scholarship coordinator, said an organization discontinuing a scholarship is a common occurrence. Committees within these organizations of business are formed to decide whether they should continue providing the scholarship. No one at Perry Ellis America was available for comment.
The Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a grassroots student organization based in Washington D.C., has been fighting the policy stated in the act that restricts students with drug convictions from attaining financial aid for a minimum of two years if they are not involved in a narcotics treatment program.
“The aid elimination penalty (for students with drug convictions) is supposed to reduce substance abuse, but it actually causes more problems by blocking access to education,” said Kris Krane, executive director of the SSDP.
The SSDP has chapters on college campuses that become involved with students, advocating for them to contact Congress, and demand resolutions to drug policies they feel inhibit learning. There are approximately 250 chapters of the SSDP throughout the country.
Campuses have worked with the SSDP to take action to provide money for students who have been barred from financial aid by the revised Higher Education Act. Since 1998, Yale University, Amherst College, Swarthmore College and Western Washington University have provided scholarships to students on their campuses with drug convictions. Last month, University of California, Berkeley became the fifth school to have their student government approve this kind of scholarship.
“The student government is doing what is necessary to provide the means to an education for students in need,” said David Israel, a senator on UC Berkeley’s student government who sponsored the bill that created the scholarship, in a prepared statement.
While CSUN does not have a SSDP chapter on campus, Associated Students General Manager David Crandall said it would not be outside of the realm of possibility for A.S. to consider a scholarship for students with drug convictions, though no one has proposed the idea yet. The Matador Involvement Center, the institution in charge of the clubs and organizations on campus, has no record of anyone trying to start a SSDP chapter on campus.
The Higher Education Act was supposed to be revisited by Congress within five to seven years of its original approval in 1998. Nine years have passed since the penalty to drug convicted college students was added to the act, something that Krane said he hopes will change when Congress reviews the Higher Education Act later this summer. With the current leadership in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, Krane said that the SSDP is optimistic that these counterproductive policies will not stand in the way of the pursuit of education after Congress revisits the act.