Students applying for federal financial aid find a troubling question on their application forms. The government wants to know if they have ever been convicted of a drug crime, no matter how minor. 

The question found its way onto the application under a federal law adopted in 1998 that included a provision banning federal aid to students who have been convicted of drug crimes. This provision applies even to misdemeanors and violations, not just felonies.

This means that if your parents can afford to pay for college, you will be unaffected by this measure. But for low- or middle-income students, this misguided provision could mean the end of a college education and all of the advantages it offers. 

In essence, this provision does nothing to help disadvantaged students struggling with substance abuse problems, but it does block access to education for those who are already at risk of being shoved to society's margins. 

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  This law is discriminatory.
If a student is convicted of a drug offense, and her family can afford to pay for college, she will be unaffected by the legislation while those who are already in danger of being pushed to society's margins will not be able to get federal aid to rehabilitate themselves. 

  It will have a racially discriminatory impact.
Drug enforcement already focuses heavily on minority communities. Recent Department of Justice statistics show that African Americans make up 12 percent of the population and 13 percent of drug offenders, but represent more than 62 percent of convictions and more then 70 percent of incarcerations for drug possession. Hispanics are over represented as well. More than half of all federal powder cocaine prosecutions are against Hispanics, even though they do not use drugs at a greater rate than their population (approximately 10 percent). 

  Blocking access to education is counterproductive.
If students are experimenting with drugs, forcing them to drop out of college will only make it harder for them to become successful, productive members of society. 


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