A bill introduced recently by three U.S. senators would make it easier for college students with drug convictions to receive financial aid, by dropping questions about drug convictions on financial aid forms.
The Stopping Unfair Collateral Consequences from Ending Student Success Act (SUCCESS) Act is sponsored by Senators Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, according to U.S. News & World Report.
The measure would require that Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms not contain questions about an applicant’s conviction for the possession or sale of illegal drugs. College students submit the forms each year to determine their eligibility for aid.
According to The Huffington Post, students applying for financial aid must answer a question about whether they have been convicted of possessing or selling illegal drugs while receiving federal student aid in the past. If they answer yes or do not answer the question, the government can suspend the student’s financial aid. They can become eligible again if they complete a drug rehabilitation program or pass a drug test.
First-time possession of marijuana makes a student potentially ineligible for federal aid for one year, the article notes. Juvenile offenses or tobacco and alcohol convictions are not covered under the law.
“A youthful mistake shouldn’t keep a person out of college and the middle class,” Sen. Casey told The Huffington Post. “There’s now an emerging bipartisan consensus on the need to reform our criminal justice system and ensure students who have already paid their debt to society are not punished twice.”
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, between 2013 and 2014, 1,107 applicants lost eligibility for a full year of aid because of a drug conviction or a failure to report one. Their estimates come from Department of Education data.
“It is not the Education Department’s job to punish students for drug infractions,” Senator Hatch said. “Statistics and common sense tell us it is bad policy to deny students education if we want to reduce drug abuse and encourage young people to become successful.”