Four colleges to provide aid for drug offenders

By Michael Kazanjian
April 25, 2002

Katie Reing

Four colleges across the country have opted to provide their own financial aid to students who are denied federal funding due to drug convictions. At the moment, Cabrini has no plans of adopting this policy.

Myra Smith, director of financial aid at Yale University, said that Yale adopted the plan “out of concern that the student not have their education interrupted because they could not receive federal aid.” The other colleges involved are: Swarthmore College, Western Washington University and Hampshire College. These four colleges did not work together to establish the additional funding; it is up to each individual institution whether or not a program gets set up.

The need for this type of funding is due to an amendment issued in 1998 to the Higher Education Act. The Higher Education Act was originally set up over 30 years ago to offer students financial aid funded by the government.
A student’s federal aid is based on a student’s response on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form.

Question number 35 asks whether or not a student has a drug conviction. If a student fills in the blank with a “yes,” there is an accompanying work sheet that asks for more specific information.

Smith said that students sometimes fill the form out incorrectly because the instructions on the FAFSA form are unclear. “In order to be denied, the conviction has to be within a year of when you are applying for aid,” Smith said. This means, for example, that if a student was convicted in 1999 and is applying for federal aid in the 2002-2003 school year, the student should mark “no” in the question box.

Yale intends to award the student whatever aid the student would have received from the federal government. Western Washington University, however, has established a $750 scholarship to students who were rejected because of a drug-related conviction.

Lynne Masland, director of financial aid at Western Washing-ton University said, “The scholarship was not funded by taxpayer or private donor dollars nor is it governed by university policy or the Board of Trustees. It was funded by proceeds from the Association Student’s sale of ads in booklets offering discount coupons to students from various local businesses.”

Laura Talbot, director of financial aid at Swarthmore College, said that aiding its students with additional money is nothing new to Swarthmore College. “We will help support a student if they were denied any type of federal funding,” Talbot said, “This was just an addition to a policy that has always existed for us.” Talbot rejects claims that the program promotes any special treatment of students convicted of drug crimes. “We are not offering a student more because of a drug crime, there is no special treatment,” Talbot said. Talbot said that Swarthmore is in a rare situation due to the fact that the college does have enough of its own funds to replace lost aid for its students.

Michael Colahan, director of financial aid at Cabrini, said that replacing aid lost due to a drug conviction has “yet to come up as a major issue” at Cabrini. “Cabrini does not pass judgment on the students. They will still receive Cabrini merit awards that are given independent of the drug issue,” Colahan said.

The schools that are involved do have certain requirements that the student must follow in order to be eligible for aid. At Yale, the student must be enrolled in rehabilitation that is offered at the school. Smith said that the student is required to meet with the school board to follow up on his or her progress. At Western Washington University the students are required to submit a 250-word essay that explains how pursuing an education will help them overcome any setbacks that they have experienced due to drugs. They must also present two letters of recommendation. One must be from a professional involved in the student’s rehab.

Critics of the new policy say that this type of program rewards or promotes bad drug habits. In response, Corey Eichner, associated students president of Western Washington University, said, “This scholarship wasn’t meant to be a reward for making a mistake. The idea was to help people who are showing a desire to make their lives better.”

At this time no students have applied for the supplemental aid at Yale, Swarthmore or Western Washington. Hampshire College could not be reached for comment. Eileen Coughlin, vice president for student affairs and academic support services at Western Washington, said, “Denial of federally funded financial aid hasn’t been a major issue on our campus as, I think, the fact that no one has applied for the scholarship demonstrates.”

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Michael Kazanjian

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