Editorial: Aid for drug convicts

When students are caught with drugs, tough times lie ahead. Not only will they face parental wrath and the consequences of the law, they may have to forfeit a college education as well, if convicted. Fortunately, Northeastern may be able to help.

The Aid Elimination Penalty, a 1998 amendment to the Higher Education Act, has made it harder for young people to get their lives on track after making a mistake with drugs. The amendment stipulates that students with drug convictions of any kind cannot receive federal financial aid – that’s what that drug question on the FAFSA form is all about.

At first glance, this may seem like a good idea. When students hear about this potentially life-altering penalty, they will put down that joint and high-tail it to the library, or so the logic goes.

There are problems with this logic, however. The amendment assumes students out at a party will consider their financial aid package before indulging in illegal substances. As hard as it may be for legislators to understand, many students caught dabbling in drug use don’t exactly have their dilated eyes on the future. This is not to say they won’t someday, and one drug conviction can negatively affect the rest of their lives. Not to mention drug convictions are the only kind of run-in with the law that disqualify a student from federal scholarships. A known sexual predator could still get money from the feds.

Nine years after going into effect, it appears the amendment has had no positive effects. While a 2006 change to the amendment made it so only drug convictions earned during college would matter , it is not enough.

Students are still doing drugs and are faced with a tough decision when denied federal aid. For many, it rules out higher education completely. It then becomes up to individual universities to decide to hand out scholarship money.

For students who have cleaned-up their acts and are interested in pursuing higher education, denying them aid based solely on a drug conviction may deny them the right to go to college. Since the government has shown little sign of accepting the amendment’s obvious failure, it is up to Northeastern to do something. It’s up to us to give these kids a second chance.

With so much of the school’s recently proposed budget set to go toward financial aid, it’s entirely realistic for the school to set up a scholarship specifically for students with drug convictions.

The idea certainly sounds silly. Why are we rewarding students for messing around with drugs? The answer is simple: They deserve an opportunity to become successful adults, to get another chance. One mistake shouldn’t ruin the rest of your life.

Students who are motivated and willing to go to college should not be shut down. Instead of denying these kids college and a future, we should be figuring out how to help them succeed and overcome the challenge of drug addiction. They need help, and closing off college as an option is the answer.

Should be decide to press on with the scholarship, we would not be alone. Schools across the country are setting up scholarships for this purpose and Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, a national group, is hard at work advocating the amendment be completely rewritten. We support such change on a national level, but until then, Northeastern can help.

We don’t support drug use, but we do support students who have been down that path and had the courage to turn themselves around. Northeastern has to step in where the federal government has taken a wrong turn, and offer a chance for these kids to stop the cycle of drug addiction and become educated.

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