Pubdate: Tue, 19 Oct 2004
Source: Oklahoma Daily, The (U of Oklahoma, OK Edu)
Copyright: 2004 The Oklahoma Daily
Author: Brianna Bailey, Daily Staff Writer
Cited: Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform
Referenced: Boston Herald article
Bookmark: (Students - United States)
Bookmark: (Cannabis)


Students Lose Their Financial Aid If They Are Convicted of Drug

Like many college students, Richard Boadu, marketing senior, has
experimented with drugs. Last summer, Boadu smoked marijuana for the
first time since junior high school, but at the time, he didn't know
that it could cost him his education.

As a current student, Boadu could not afford tuition at OU without the
help of Pell Grants, which unlike loans, do not have to be repaid.
Boadu was unaware at the time that if police had caught him in
possession of marijuana, he could have lost his federal financial aid
for one year or more.

More than 150,000 students nation-wide have been rejected on the basis
of drug convictions by the federal government's financial aid program
since 2000, said Brian Dolber, outreach coordinator for the Washington
D.C.-based lobbying group Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform.

"If you rape or murder someone you can still receive financial aid but
not if you are caught with marijuana," Dolber said.

Congress was expected to review the Higher Education Act in its last
session, revising the laws that provide aid like Pell Grants and
Perkins Loans to more than a million American students, Dolber said.
Congress is considering changing the drug provision in the HEA.

According to an Oct. 9 article in The Boston Herald, a bill amending
the drug provision that denies aid to applicants with drug convictions
was pushed off the Senate Judiciary Committee's agenda before Congress
adjourned from its 108th session Oct. 8.

Dolber said CHEAR is working to get the bill overturning the drug
provision approved by Congress. Dolber said the bill may be considered
when Congress returns for its last session of the year after the Nov.
2 general election.

The bill, which contains language limiting the denial of student aid
to students who were caught with drugs while they were receiving aid,
would also renew the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Dolber

The purpose of ONDCP is to establish policies, priorities and
objectives for the nation's drug control program, which seek to reduce
illicit drug use, manufacturing, trafficking, drug-related crime and
violence and drug-related health consequences, according to the ONDCP
Web site.

CHEAR has added an amendment to the bill that would overturn the drug
provision, making all federal aid applicants with prior drug
convictions eligible to receive aid.

"We don't think [reforming the drug provision] is good enough," Dolber

All people are entitled to an education, he said.

A provision that denies federal financial aid to applicants with
drug-related convictions was added to the Higher Education Act in
1998, said Pam McConahay, director of Compliance, Training and Lender
Relations at OU.

The provision was intended to take away grants and student loans from
students who were using or selling drugs while in school. However, the
language of the law is unclear and it has been used to keep students
with past drug convictions from receiving aid, McConahay said.

"There was confusion over who actually fell under the drug question,"
said Bradley Burnett, director of Financial Aid Services.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid contains a question that
asks applicants if they have ever been convicted of selling or
possessing illegal drugs, Burnett said. There are no questions to
determine if the applicant was convicted while in college or before.

"It's basically a yes or no question," Burnett said.

If an applicant answers "yes," he or she receives a worksheet with
more questions in the mail.

How long aid is withheld depends on whether the applicant was
convicted of possessing or selling illegal drugs and how many offenses
he or she has, Burnett said. Aid can be denied for one to two years
for a first offense.

Burnett said he did not know of any OU students who have been affected
by the drug provision but acknowledges that there is no national
database to track drug convictions.

Jessica Hanan, zoology senior, said she can see both sides of the

"I don't think someone who got caught smoking pot shouldn't be able to
go to school," Hanan said. "But on the other hand, they don't want
people getting financial aid who will be more interested in other
things than going to school."
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