HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Aid Fills Gap After Drug Convictions
Pubdate: Mon, 21 Jan 2002
Source: Bellingham Herald (WA)
Copyright: 2002 Bellingham Herald
Author: Mary Lane Gallagher, The Bellingham Herald
Bookmark: (Higher Education Act)


WWU: Scholarship Will Help Students Denied Financial Aid After Drug 

Western Washington University students who lose their financial aid
because of previous drug convictions might get a little help from the
university's student government.

Western's Associated Students' governing board voted last week to set
up a scholarship for students who have lost their financial aid
because of previous convictions for selling or possessing illegal drugs.

Federal law prohibits students with drug-related convictions from
receiving federally funded financial aid for at least one year after
their conviction. Depending on the number of convictions, students
could be barred for life.

The new scholarship would give $750 to students who have been turned
down for federal aid because of drug convictions, need the money to
come to school, and have demonstrated that they want to turn their
lives around, said Corey Eichner, president of Western's student body.

"It's not to reward someone who made a mistake," Eichner said. "The
idea is to help people who are showing a desire to make their life

Law Condemned

The executive board voted six-to-one in favor of establishing the
"Higher Education Act Drug Provision Relief Scholarship" referring to
the 1998 federal law barring federal student aid to those who have
been convicted of possessing or selling drugs. The 2000-1 school year
was the first time students could lose their financial aid because of
their drug history.

Last year's Associated Students executive board passed a resolution
condemning the law, Eichner said.

"A lot of universities feel the provision is discriminatory to
underrepresented populations as well as to low-income families,"
Eichner said.

Eichner cited statistics showing that whites and blacks use drugs at
about the same rate, but that black people are much more likely to be
convicted of drug-related offenses.

"It's also become a concern at a lot of universities, including ours,
that the federal government should be trying to help people get a
higher education, not making it more difficult," Eichner said.

Eichner said he hasn't heard of another university with a scholarship
devoted to students turned down for federal aid because of past drug

Just One Case

So far, only one Western student has lost federal aid because of a
previous drug conviction, said Clara Capron, Western's director of
student financial resources. And the law allows that student to have
federal aid reinstated by completing a federally approved drug
rehabilitation program, she said.

Capron said the student's financial aid counselor gave the student
information about rehabilitation programs in Bellingham that could
enable the student to regain eligibility.

"If they actually complete the rehabilitation program during the
middle of the quarter, they can be eligible for aid during that
quarter," she said.

Not A Major Issue

The scholarship is the result of a "student-level conversation," said
Eileen Coughlin, Western's vice president of student affairs.

"We understand why the students would have an interest in wanting to
make sure a student who has had a conviction but was trying to turn
his life around would have support," Coughlin said. "But since that's
not been a major issue on campus, I can't judge what kind of an impact
that would have."Elected student leaders have been discussing the
scholarship since November, when it was first proposed by the
Associated Students' Drug Information Center, Eichner said. It
generated heated discussion, including concerns about the message
students would be sending by funding the scholarship, he said.

"A lot of students ... came up said 'I don't think the AS should
sponsor this. I don't feel we should be rewarding people for the
mistakes they've made,'" Eichner said. "Others were concerned that
$750 isn't going to be enough money."

Partly as a result of these discussions, the scholarship will go to a
student who wants to pursue higher education in order to improve his
or her life, Eichner said. Students must also submit two letters of
recommendation, including one from a drug counselor, teacher, minister
or other person related to the applicant's rehabilitation, he said.

The scholarship, which will begin next school year, is one of 17
scholarships and child care vouchers funded by the Associated
Students. The funds come from the revenue generated by a book of
student-oriented ads and coupons sold at the beginning of the year.
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