This is a grassroots guide to repealing the Higher Education Act Aid Elimination Penalty (HEA-AEP), the law that blocks federal financial aid to applicants with any type of drug conviction. The actions range from simple to difficult, building off one another. Please consider this as a reference and plausible strategy for your chapter, not a fast-and-true guide.
Note: Our national campaign to repeal the HEA Aid Elimination Penalty is priority #1. With your help, we will repeal the Aid Elimination Penalty this year!


Action Plan for College Chapters

  1. Devote One Meeting to Educating Chapter Members about the HEA Aid Elimination Penalty and SSDP’s Campaign to Repeal ItSSDP leads the student movement to repeal the HEA Aid Elimination Penalty. Providing accurate information about the issue provides a foundation to effecting change.

    Steps to a Successful Meeting:

    Logistics. Set a meeting and advertise. Make sure you have the proper equipment to show PowerPoint. Download the HEA Aid Elimination Penalty PowerPoint Presentation explaining the HEA Drug Provision and SSDP’s strategy for repeal.

    Brainstorm. Allow enough time for chapter members to talk about the presentation and to decide what direction your chapter wants to go. Consider forming a committee to spearhead efforts.

    Materials. Pass out copies of the SSDP materials on this issue, including the Legislative GuideGrassroots GuideMedia Guide and Position Paper

  2. Use the Media to Raise Awareness About the HEAid Elimination PenaltySince both the public and policy-makers get information about public policy issues from the news, you should work with the press to get positive coverage of your chapter’s efforts to repeal the HEA Aid Elimination Penalty.
    Letters to the editor: Writing letters to the editor, or LTEs. is easy, effective, and rewarding. LTEs should be short and to-the-point. Your chances of being published are greater if your letter is in response to a recently published article. Make sure you write LTEs in a timely fashion; news cycles happen quickly.For more tips on writing LTEs, visit http://www.mapinc.org/resource/

    Also, download the Media Guide.

    Advisories and Releases: When your chapter hosts an event on the Aid Elimination Penalty, you should send out a news advisory to alert reporters. News advisories clearly and concisely spell out the who, what, when, and where of your event so that reporters have the essential details to cover the event.If there is a local or national news development relating to the Aid Elimination Penalty, you should send out a press release outlining your chapter’s position on the matter. Hopefully, future articles about the topic will include a quote from one of your members.

    Download the Sample Press Release (link to HEA-AEP Press Release) to use as a guide.

    Doing Interviews: If you land an interview with a reporter, make sure to practice your talking points in advance. Remember that you don’t have to directly answer a reporter’s questions; you should always come back to your main message and sound bytes. With that said, remember to be courteous and truthful in your answers.If your chapter gets any press coverage, be sure to share it with the National Office and the rest of the SSDP community.

    For more in-depth information about using the media, please see the Media Guide as well as Working with the Media. Feel free to contact SSDP’s campaigns director, Tyler H. Smith (tyler@ssdp.org) for advice at any time.

  3. Organize a Petition DriveSetting up a table on your campus green or in your student activities center is an effective way to raise awareness about your organization and gain support for the repeal of the HEA Aid Elimination Penalty. You can use a petition to build your contact list and to show student government members, faculty government members, media, and legislators that students demand the repeal of the HEA Aid Elimination Penalty.

    How to Table and Petition on Your Campus:

    Logistics. Select a date when SSDP’ers have the time to man the table. Reserve a table from your student activities center.

    Visualize. Buy a banner from your local print shop or make your own banner with the SSDP Logo. Ask the national office or check www.ssdp.org for information about t-shirts, stickers, flyers, and buttons.

    Educate. Make sure the folks at the table are knowledgeable about the Aid Elimination Penalty, and pass out information about the Aid Elimination Penalty and the John Perry Scholarship Fund.

    Build the Petition. Ask people who pass by to sign the Petition to repeal the HEA Drug Provision and if they would like to know more about the law and SSDP. This petition will illustrate support for repeal to student government leaders, faculty, university leaders, media, and legislators.

    Victim Search. AEP victims are the best people to help repeal this law. Media and lawmakers want to hear from the people affected. If you meet a victim, be sure to get their contact information and pass it to the SSDP national office.

    Organize. Keep the petitions in a safe place. Log interested students’ contact information into your chapter database.

  4. Persuade Student Government and Faculty Government to Endorse RepealAs of today, at least 110 student governments have passed resolutions calling for the repeal of the HEA Aid Elimination Penalty. This is one of the most influential things you can do on the campus level. Passing a resolution on campus sends a clear message to peers, educators, media, and legislators that the HEA Aid Elimination Penalty must be repealed.

    How to Lobby your Student Government and Faculty Government:

    Find a Champion. Do your research and find a student government representative or faculty member to help you pass the resolution. Contact the person and e-mail, him/her the Legislative Guide, and then request a meeting.

    Know the Process. Ask your champion what you need to do to get the resolution passed. It will probably involve presenting your argument at a meeting and educating other representatives.

    Garner Media. This is a great time to write an op-ed about why it is important for the student or faculty government to pass the resolution. Positive press will help. Notify the press when you pass the resolution.

    Use your Resources. Keep the national office updated on your progress. The Outreach Coordinator, Media Director and Legislative Director are here to help you with logistics, talking points and legislative questions.

    Additional Resources:

    A Sample Resolution
    Schools with Resolutions
    Verify a School’s Support

  5. Persuade University Chancellor to Endorse RepealThe University of Rhode Island SSDP successfully persuaded their university president to endorse repeal, educate faculty members about the harms caused by the Aid Elimination Penalty, lobby legislators, and speak at a SSDP press conference.

    How to Make Your Chancellor/President an Advocate for Repeal:

    Set the Meeting. Send a letter to your Chancellor, requesting a meeting. Explain why he/she needs to know about the Aid Elimination Penalty and how he/she can help. Illustrate campus support. Enclose the Legislative Guide and a recent media hit.

    Build the Relationship. When you meet with the Chancellor, ask him/her to be a public advocate for repeal. Some ways he/she can help include: speaking to the media, lobbying members of Congress, and supporting SSDP’s campaign efforts.

    Follow-up. Send a brief thank-you note summarizing the meeting and offering to answer any questions he/she might have.

  6. Lobby Senators and Representatives for RepealMeeting with your legislator is one of the easiest and most powerful things you can do. Lawmakers are not likely to advocate repeal unless they hear from concerned voters. Be sure to contact SSDP’s Government Relations Director for the latest campaign update.


    Set the Meeting. Use government websites to find out who your Representative and Senators are. Identify yourself as a constituent and ask to meet with the member or the relevant staffer. You will probably have to fax a formal request to the office. Be prepared to call several times. Persistence is key.

    Prepare. Contact SSDP’s Campaigns Director to discuss the meeting agenda, talking points, and materials to take (including student government resolutions).

    Stay on Message. Stick to the topic. Don’t get into drug legalization or other issues.

    Be Early. Members and staffers have tight schedules. They can run late or even cancel last minute, but you can not.

    Show Respect.

    Memorize these rules:

    1. Always address and refer to members as “Senator___” or “Congressman/Congresswoman _____”
    2. Explain the issue in detail but do not imply they are ignorant about it. Preface facts with phrases like “As you know,”
    3. Begin with a brief word of thanks for something they have done, like “Congresswoman ___, before we start I just wanted to thank you for your great work on saving the spotted owl.”
  7. Never bash a member or his/her political party.Be Political. Connect your issue with issues constituents already care about and illustrate how your issue directly impacts a large portion of the member’s constituency.

    Be Honest. If you don’t know the answer, just tell them. This is good for two reasons. 1: It makes you look credible. 2: It is a great reason to follow-up.

    Just Say It. Say what you want to say. Don’t leave the meeting without asking the member to do something. You will know what to ask for after talking with the Government Relations Director.

    Follow-up. Get the staffer or member’s business card. Agree to keep in touch on the issue. Send a brief thank-you note or email mentioning the date and subject of your meeting. Let the Government Relations Director know the results.

  8. Pioneer a Program to Provide Aid to Victims of thAid Elimination Penalty. If you attend a private school, you can work to have your school replace financial aid to victims of the HEA Aid Elimination Penalty. Swarthmore, Yale, Western Washington, University of California Berkeley and Hampshire College replace financial aid to HEA victims.
    To organize this action, contact SSDP’s outreach staff or get the contact info for the outreach director responsible for your region . We connect you to activists whom have successfully pioneered a program to keep HEA victims in school.

Media on this Action

Swarthmore: http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/227/swarthmore.shtml
Yale: http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/232/yale.shtml

Contact information for SSDP Staff

SSDP’s East Coast Office
1623 Connecticut Ave NW Suite 300
Washington, D.C. 20009
P: 202.293-4414
F: 202.293-8344


Other Groups Working on This Issue:

Coalition for HEA Reform
The Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform (CHEAR) – a wide array of education, civil rights, religious, drug policy reform and other organizations – works to reform the HEA Aid Elimination Penalty.

The Drug Reform Coordination Network
The Drug Reform Coordination Network’s founding purpose is to stop the chaos and violence of the illegal drug trade, end the bondage of mass incarceration suffered by hundreds of thousands of nonviolent offenders, stem the spread of deadly epidemic disease, secure the right of patients to appropriate medical treatment, restore Constitutional protections and ensure just treatment under the law for all. DRCNet offers an invaluable on-line drug war library.


Shawn Heller, former national director of SSDP, and Representative Mark Souder debate the Higher Education Act and the restrictions applying to students convicted of drug offenses.


Tom Angell, Government Relations Director

Students for Sensible Drug Policy 1623 Connecticut Ave., NW, Third Floor
Washington DC 20009


Drug War Chronicle

The Drug War Chronicle is a free, weekly e-zine, and occasional, timely alerts on legislation and activism in your state (one e-mail in the typical week, no more than two or three even in a busy week). The Drug War Chronicle’s mission is to raise the awareness about the consequences of prohibition. The Drug War Chronicle extensively covers the HEA Aid Elimination Penalty.