Although summer vacation for students often means lax part-time jobs or internships to spruce up resumes, this summer some may be scrambling to find a way to earn bundles of cash in order to stay in school. Under a new policy--being enforced for the first time on a large scale--any student convicted of a so-called drug crime will be denied federal financial aid for the upcoming academic year.
"You can rape, kill, rob, but you can't smoke a joint," said a financial aid officer at Portland State University. Enacted three years ago, the law has, for the most part, been dormant. But under the new administration, it is finally being applied on a large scale this year. "There is really no relation between federal drug policy and student financial aid," adds Sam Coolie, Director of Financial Aid at PSU, "but Congress has seen fit to tie these two together."
Enacted in 1998, the law expresses a contorted carrot-and-stick mentality that, according to its sponsors, means to dissuade students from drug use by tying it to their financial aid. But critics have leveled that the policy only further hurts students in need and, moreover, disproportionately slams poor and minority students--the students most reliant on financial aid.
Last year, of the nearly 10 million financial aid applications filed, 9,200 students lost their aid because of the law. Another quarter-million simply left the question in the financial aid application--about whether they had committed a drug violation--blank. The primary change this year is that the DOE has pledged to diligently pursue this law and, moreover, to withhold aid from any student not answering the question. According to the DOE, with half of the applications already filed, 33,000 needing financial aid have said that they have a drug conviction in their past; meanwhile, roughly 50,000 students have left the question blank.
So far, though, area colleges--from the Lewis & Clark campus to the sprawling greens of Ashland Community College--claim that the law has had only a minor to negligible impact. "I can count on one hand the number of students who have told me that they are concerned," said a financial aid consultant at the University of Oregon. His supervisor, Elizabeth Bickford, Director of Financial Aid, claimed no impact, in spite of the dozens of arrests for drug offenses annually on the UO campus.
Earlier this spring, US Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass) reintroduced legislation to repeal the law. He had publicly predicted a groundswell of support once thousands of middle class parents discover that their children's financial aid has been revoked. So far, however, the bill has at best, trudged through Congress.