Student Financial Aids Anti-Drug Provision Fizzles

Student Financial Aids Anti-Drug Provision Fizzles
Posted by CN Staff on September 30, 2002 at 08:48:38 PT
By John Molseed - The Daily Iowan
Source: Daily Iowan
A federal financial-aid provision aimed at denying government money to students with drug convictions hasn't proven to be much of a hurdle at the UI. This fall, 10 UI financial-aid applicants were initially turned down for assistance under the Higher Education Act measure that denies or limits federal aid for students who have been convicted of drug-related crimes. All the applicants either admitted to a drug conviction or left the question blank on their Free Application for Federal Student Aid forms. They later changed their answers when notified by the university.
"It's a self-reported field," said Catherine Wilcox, the UI associate director of Financial Aid, adding that the law does not provide any way of verifying an applicant's answer.The question appears on the financial-aid as a "yes" or "no" field. Applications with a blank or "yes" answer are flagged. They are then contacted by letter explaining that they may not receive aid and are given the opportunity to change the response. There is no method to determine if the corrected response was deliberately falsified to retain eligibility.Approximately 87,000 students nationwide have been denied federal aid since the provision's implementation in 1998, said Shawn Heller, the national director of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy. An estimated 30,000 were denied loans and grants at the start of this year. Not all of the applicants were necessarily enrolled when their aid applications were rejected."Many people in higher education and financial aid strongly oppose even having the question," Wilcox said. "If there's no way of policing it, what purpose does it serve?"The UI's first chapter of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy group will meet tonight to begin a campaign to repeal the provision and raise awareness on campus about drug laws."Most students don't even know about the Higher Education Act provision," said freshman Kyle FitzGerald, a co-founding member.The group is a Washington, D.C.-based organization formed in 1998 to repeal the provision. A resolution in the House of Representatives calls for the provision's removal and has 69 supporters, but lawmakers say it probably won't be addressed before the end of the current congressional session."These kind of changes to the Higher Education Act usually come when the entire act is reauthorized," said Bill Tate, a spokesman for Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa. "We'd want to see it in the context of the entire act."The measure is slated for reauthorization next year.Matt Blizek, the UI Student Government vice president, said he hopes the Iowa City group gets more students and young people involved in politics."Students will care about the drug provision," he said. "They're being persecuted for personal choices. This is an issue where the politicians are way behind the public."UI junior George Pappas, another co-founder of the local group, said the organization will also address such local and university issues as the one-strike dorm policy, which expels students from campus housing if they're caught with any amount of drugs.Students for a Sensible Drug Policy will meet today at 7 p.m. at Pizza on Dubuque, 5 S. Dubuque St.UI senior Andrew Williams is working to start another student group with a similar agenda.Williams is drafting a constitution for a local chapter of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, which he will present to the UISG sometime this week. Like the other group, he hopes his can work closely with local politicians to help create alternatives to the nation's drug war. He also advocates the legalization of marijuana."I want to break down the stereotypes of recreational cannabis users," Williams said. "People can use it and lead a productive life."Source: Daily Iowan, The (IA Edu)Author: John Molseed - The Daily IowanPublished: September 30, 2002Copyright: 2002 The Daily IowanContact: daily-iowan uiowa.eduWebsite: Articles - SSDP
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