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Since 2000, students with drug convictions have lost access to federal financial aid as a result of a little known provision of the Higher Education Act (HEA). Added by Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) as a committee amendment in 1998, the Aid Elimination Penalty slipped into the 257-page HEA reauthorization bill without debate or a recorded vote.

Unfortunately, many members of Congress and financial aid administrators were unaware of this change in the law until long after its passage. To date, over 200,000 students have been ineligible for federal loans, grants, and work-study because of the HEA Aid Elimination Penalty.

In early 2006, SSDP and our allies forced Congress to scale back the law, so that only people who are convicted while in college and receiving financial aid will have their eligibility taken away. Now, people who got convicted before they decided to go to college will be able to move on with their lives and earn an education.

During the Higher Education Act Reauthorization process of 2008, Congress further scaled back the penalty, making it easier for students with drug convictions to regain eligibility for financial aid.  Previously, students had to complete a government-approved treatment program, which are often more expensive than tuition at state universities or community colleges.  Now, students have to pass two unannounced drug tests administered by a government-approved treatment program, without completing the program itself.


Unfortunately, college students who get convicted will still lose their aid, and many of them will have to drop out. Statistics and common sense tell us that it simply doesn’t make sense to pull students out of school if we want to reduce drug abuse and encourage young people to become successful citizens.

In July 2009, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced the Removing Impediments to Students’ Education (RISE) Act into the 111th Congress. The bill, which has substantial support, would simply repeal the aid elimination penalty.

In September 2009, The House passed the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which included language that would repeal the Aid Elimination Penalty for students convicted of drug possession offenses.  If this becomes law, only students convicted of drug distribution offenses will lose their aid eligibility. Rep. Souder (R-IN) attempted to introduce an amendment that would roll back this reform. Ultimately, in the face of overwhelming opposition to his amendment, he withdrew it.

Check out the links in the sidebar for more information/resources on the HEA Aid Elimination Penalty and to find out what you can do to repeal this unjust law once and for all.