Pubdate: Wed, 04 May 2005
Source: Arkansas Traveler, The (AR Edu)
Copyright: 2005 The Arkansas Traveler
Bookmark: (Higher Education Act)
Bookmark: (Youth)


In 1998, Rep. Mark Souder, R-Indiana, authored an amendment to the Higher 
Education Act delaying or denying financial aid eligibility to any 
individual convicted of a state or federal drug offense. As it stands, the 
amendment enforces a policy in which drug possession convictions result in 
ineligibility for one year for a first offense, two years for second 
offense and indefinitely for a third; drug sale convictions warrant 
ineligibility for two years on a first offense and indefinitely for a 
second offense. Ineligibility applies to all forms of federal financial 
aid, including grants, student loans and work-study.

The vast majority of young people convicted of a drug offense are convicted 
of non-violent possession. According to the Coalition for Higher Education 
Act Reform, more than 160,500 students have been denied aid by the Souder 

Last week, the Associated Student Government passed a resolution to lobby 
Congress to repeal this backward, counterproductive law.

However, one ASG senator, undoubtedly seeking to follow in the footsteps of 
former controversial student government figures, voiced his opposition.

ASG Sen. Kris Zibert, the recently elected Senate chairman, supported the 
decision, calling it a "worthy cause," but did not support the legislation. 
Awarding financial aid to drug offenders is a "bad investment from an 
economic standpoint," Zibert said. "Nine times out of 10, society won't get 
the return on the taxpayers' money."

Fortunately, a majority of ASG senators disagreed with Zibert's strangely 
overconfident remarks enough to pass the resolution, which sensibly argues 
that limiting former drug offenders' access to higher education discourages 
them from making positive life changes.

This is a more fair and forgiving position than Zibert's classic, yet 
silly,"they'll spend it on booze" argument.

Souder's provision to the Higher Education Act sunk an already-low glass 
ceiling over the heads of too many American youth and should be reformed.

Blocking past drug offenders' access to education is excessive, considering 
that it severely limits the opportunities of individuals who have already 
been punished for their convictions. And today, as bachelor's degrees 
become the new high school diploma, a sentence to life without education 
depressingly begins to resemble life in prison.

The Act discriminates against working families whose children most need 
financial assistance for college, as well as against blacks and Hispanics, 
whose communities are disproportionately targeted by drug enforcement.

The Act does not combat the nation's drug abuse problem, piling on 
consequences rather than addressing the problem at its roots. Although the 
law provides that individuals ineligible for federal aid because of drug 
convictions may receive early restoration of benefits by completing a 
treatment program, it does not increase funding for drug abuse treatment 

Equal access to education is a worthy goal and should include everyone. 
Drug offenders don't deserve to be turned away from higher education. 
Allowing them to pay for college with the help of work-study, a grant or 
low-interest loan will encourage them to pursue education, which is one of 
the surest ways for young people to contribute to the economy.

Drug abuse among young people is a problem, but discouraging former users 
from college further limits some of the nation's most at-risk. It is 
unjust, unnecessary, inappropriate and should be repealed.
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