Before the "War on Terrorism" our nation's leaders started fighting another war, the "War on Drugs." Despite the fact that waging war on a group of inanimate objects is a hard thing to wrap your mind around, this "war" has continued without much success. Drug users, not dealers, are being convicted in record numbers, breaking apart families, overcrowding prisons and using inordinate amounts of money that could be going to other things, like education. This "war" has also taken victims in another, less tangible way, by denying drug offenders access to federal financial aid.
In the Higher Education Act of 1998, Congress added a law that made people who have been convicted of drug offenses ineligible for federal aid. For one offense, eligibility is suspended for a year, for a second offense, two years, a third offense bans someone from ever receiving aid.
However, murderers and rapists are still eligible. The message is loud and clear – got caught with some pot? Sorry, no college for you. Killed your girlfriend? Sure, we'll help you out. Confused yet?
We're not advocating drugs, but to ban people for life from getting financial aid just doesn't make sense. Loans are the most common form of financial aid to college students, without them, many people are not able to go to college.
The government likes to talk about rehabilitating drug users, but with no access to higher education, what kind of chances are we really giving these people?
Yes, drugs can be terrible, they tear apart families, and destroy and cost lives. But to categorically tell people that if you get caught even once with drugs you may lose your ability to get the money you need for college, you lose your chance to live the "American Dream," is just plain wrong.
The good news is that tucked into this year's budget is a provision that will change the law to only affect people who were students receiving aid at the time of their conviction. While this is a great start and one that will allow many more people to be able to achieve the dream of furthering their education, it's just a start. Students make mistakes too, and hell, sometimes students just smoke a little pot. To cut them off from financial aid, forcing them out of school for even a year, is inexcusable. We urge Congress to amend the Higher Education Act to take all drug penalties out of federal financial aid eligibility.
The "American Dream" is that everyone can achieve success, despite their background. By denying this to drug offenders we're not only cutting their futures off, we're also cutting ourselves out of the contributions that these people could make to society if they only given the chance.