Students convicted of drug offenses were again left behind last month when Congress passed the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act.
The act overhauled the student loan system to the benefit of students, but it failed to repeal the unjust Aid Elimination Penalty. Under current law, if a college student receiving financial aid is convicted of a drug offense, they automatically lose their financial aid package and are required to pay back any aid received in the past.
Since this rule took effect 10 years ago more than 200,000 students have lost their financial aid. Countless others have not even applied for fear they would be denied.
The Aid Elimination Penalty is wrong and unfair.
First, by stripping convicted students of aid, the government is penalizing people who have already faced criminal punishment for their actions. The American Civil Liberties Union has noted that this is unconstitutional as the Fifth Amendment prohibits people from being punished twice for the same offense.
Moreover, all students deserve an education regardless of the mistakes they’ve made in the past. If a former drug offender wants to advance their education, as a society we should support them. Blocking their financial aid only makes it more likely that they will continue to offend and not become more productive citizens.
The only legitimate reason to deny a student financial aid is if they fail to meet minimum academic standards. If a student convicted of a felony drug offense is succeeding academically, there is no reason to deny them aid.
Congress must take up this issue again. Education is a crucial, life-changing opportunity that must be made available to as many people as possible, regardless of their criminal history.