“Just say no.” We all grew up with it. We know that we’re supposed to “say no” to drugs. Such efforts as education programs in schools, the war on drugs and tougher penalties for those involved with illegal drug use have targeted young people to deter them from drugs, which, no doubt, can have a devastating effect on their entire lives.
Refusing federal financial aid for drug possession/selling convictions, however, is an extreme step in drug deterrence and/or prosecution of criminal acts. Not only does the law single out one type of crime, but it also places that one crime above more serious ones, such as taking another’s life.
If this law is to remain as such, it needs to encompass more than just drug use as a reason to deny students federal financial aid. Perhaps anyone convicted of a felony crime should be denied aid. That would send the message that all crimes are wrong and anyone engaging in all forms of illegal behavior will have to pay more for a college education. Currently we’re only telling that to those involved with drugs.
Another reason this isn’t effective is because it is a self-reporting system. One can only hope that students asking for money would be honest and forthcoming with answers, but we don’t live in a perfect world. The form specifically asks if the student has any drug convictions and states that the question cannot be left blank, even though the U.S. Department of Education reported that about 260,000 were in 2000-01. However, it’s unclear as to whether or not blank responses are pursued, and, more importantly, no one double-checks each application to see if someone lied. If a student answers “yes,” a supplemental form is sent to fill out to determine how long aid is revoked. Otherwise, the application is processed.
The only convictions that are recognized under the law are by those who are tried as adults. So, much like the rest of juvenile records, you’d have better luck at breaching White House security than finding out what someone did prior to turning 18. As a society, we want to protect our children from being labeled at a young age so they may find the right path and lead healthy, successful lives. This follows suit with protocol for other juvenile records, but this law has juveniles praying for lenient judges if they are caught and only encourages 18-year-olds to watch their backs more carefully.
Also, so many students are entering college at the age of 17. If these students are not subject to this law, then all financial aid applicants will not undergo the same scrutiny, creating a system that is prejudiced to students over the age of 18.
This law is misguided in its narrow scope. Anyone convicted of drug charges are subject to some of the toughest sentences that the judicial system can and does deliver. Must we punish these young adults further and possibly hinder their chance at higher education? If we want to restrict illegal behavior by threatening harsher punishments or ineligibility, we must encompass more than just one single crime. What this says right now is that the government doesn’t mind giving federal financial aid to the guy that beats and rapes the girl in his study group, but the kid who sells in order to put himself through school is just out of luck. Apparently, that’s worse than any other crime.