The penalty is unfair, and only causes more drug abuse, crime, and economic problems

  • The Aid Elimination Penalty automatically strips financial aid from students with any drug conviction, including misdemeanor marijuana possession.  Since the penalty was added to the Higher Education Act in 1998, nearly 200,000 students have been denied aid because of it.  Countless others didn’t even apply for aid because they thought they’d be denied.
  • President Johnson signed the HEA over three decades ago to open the doors to college education for students to whom they had previously been closed.  The penalty was tacked on to the HEA during the 1998 amendments and is completely contrary to the original law’s spirit.
  • Putting up roadblocks on the path to education does nothing to solve our nation’s drug and crime problems; it only makes them worse.  Forcing students convicted of drug charges to drop out of school makes them more likely to continue abusing drugs and engaging in criminal activity (thus becoming costly burdens on the criminal justice system) and less likely to become productive taxpaying citizens (thus reducing the nation’s economic productivity and leading to more reliance on costly social programs down the line).
  • The penalty only affects hardworking and determined students who are doing well in school, since students must maintain satisfactory academic progress to receive aid in the first place.
  • The penalty punishes individuals twice for the same infraction.  Victims of this law have already been punished by the criminal justice system.  Taking away their access to education after they’ve already paid their debt to society is excessive.
  • The mere appearance of the drug question on the student aid application can deter students from applying, even if they are actually eligible for aid.
  • The penalty disproportionately affects people of color. Because of racial profiling and the discriminatory enforcement of drug laws, the penalty keeps them out of school at a much higher rate than the general population.
  • The penalty hurts only students from low- and middle-income families – the same people the HEA was intended to assist.  Students from wealthy families can afford to pay for tuition without public aid and can frequently afford lawyers to avoid drug convictions in the first place.
  • Students who cannot afford tuition are frequently also unable to afford the private drug rehabilitation programs required by the penalty to get their aid back.
  • More than 325 organizations have called for the full repeal of the penalty, including the National Education Association, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, the Association for Addiction Professionals, the NAACP, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Presbyterian Church, the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, and the United States Student Association.
  • The penalty usurps judges’ and college administrators’ authority to administer punishments for violations of the law and campus policies.  Judges can already revoke aid from people convicted of drug offenses and college administrators can already expel students when they deem it appropriate. This one-size-fits-all approach mandated by legislators in Washington, DC takes away that authority.
  • Even the congressionally-created Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance recommended that Congress remove the drug question from the financial aid application, calling it “irrelevant” to aid eligibility.
  • The Government Accountability Office, Congress’s own research arm, recently indicated that it could find no evidence that the penalty “actually helped to deter drug use.”

Although the penalty was scaled back this year, it still needs to be overturned completely

  • Earlier this year, Congress modified the penalty by taking away its “reachback” effect, stopping its application to students with convictions in the past.  But the penalty continues to strip aid from those who get convicted while in school.   The partial reform only helps a small portion of affected students and leaves tens of thousands behind.  Unfortunately, this is only a 10 percent solution to a law that is 100 percent flawed; it’s like slapping Band-Aid on a gaping wound.
  • The minor change doesn’t address the fundamental problems with the penalty.  Kicking students out of school increases the chances they will abuse drugs or commit other crimes and decreases the chances they will become productive taxpaying citizens. It still only affects students who are doing well in school.  It still disproportionately affects people of color and students from low- and middle-income families.  The drug question’s appearance on the financial aid application still deters countless eligible students from applying.  None of the 250 organizations opposed to the penalty feel that the reform is adequate.