When we baby boomers remember college, most of us probably admit that experiences with drugs, sex and rock ‘n roll land as much in our memory banks as anything academic, athletic or more officially “extra-curricular.”
And it’s exactly those non-official activities, and the bending of the rules they sometimes entailed, that cause many of us to adopt a “do as I say, not as I did” stance when it comes to advising our own children on the decibel level of the stereo, the concept of pre-marital sexual activity and yes, the use of recreational drugs.
I promise to never write a column about sex (there are plenty of Web sites for that ;>), and I don’t foresee writing a column about rock ‘n roll, though the legalities of music downloading occasionally catch my attention.
However, this is a column about drugs or, more specifically a column about what I believe is an unnecessary provision in the Higher Education Act (HEA) that prevents anyone with a drug conviction from receiving any form of federal financial aid.
I think this provision is wrongheaded, counter-productive and that it should be repealed. Nearly 100 other organizations in the higher ed community agree, and a group called Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) is working to get this piece of law eliminated.
Let me explain further.
Since 2000, students with past drug convictions have been blocked access to federal financial aid as a result of this little-known – and not debated at the time of passage – HEA language. Added as a committee amendment without a recorded vote, the HEA “Aid Elimination Penalty” language was slipped into a 257-page bill with no opportunity for a full hearing on its impact.
Not surprisingly, but sadly in my view, the impact has been enormous, with nearly 200,000 students to date finding themselves ineligible for federal financial aid based on mistakes they made in their past or, as is now the case, mistakes that are occurring as we speak.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t condone illegal drug use, nor do I write this in some sort of guilt trip due to my own drug experiences. I like a glass of beer or wine on occasion, but drugs aren’t my thing and, knock on wood, neither are they on the agenda for my teen- or tween-aged sons.
Empathy and fairness are on my dance-card, however, and I just don’t see the logic in asking a young person who is trying to get his or her life back on track to go to college with their financial arms tied behind their back.
In early 2006, SSDP and its allies convinced Congress to scale back the law, so that only students who are convicted while in college and receiving financial aid will have their eligibility taken away. Unfortunately, many of these students will have to drop out of school. 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.
While delaying aid may not be devastating at first glance, the U.S. Department of Education reports that 36% of those who left four-year institutions after their first year did not return within 5 years, irrespective of whether drugs are involved.
Maybe you are one of the lucky ones, but my guess is that nearly all of us have been in contact with at least one family whose children have fallen to the temptation to get involved with illegal drugs, and who now may be paying the consequences. Realistically, if the transgression is severe, then attending college is likely not possible for legal or behavioral reasons, at least in the short term.
So what we are talking about here is giving a young person who has made a relatively minor mistake, and who is trying to get his/her life back on track, a chance to regroup, do well in school and, most important, graduate with a diploma that will help them to get ahead.
If you agree with the points I have made, please go to www.ssdp.org/aid and sign the action alert, which will automatically register your concerns with your member of Congress and the Senators from your state. And whether you agree or not, please share your thoughts on Federal Drug Policy by going to Hoverings: A Blog for Current and Future College Parents. Thank you for reading about this issue affecting all of us.