In the past, a conviction for a drug-associated offense, such as possessing or distributing a controlled substance, was disastrous for students who receive government-guaranteed loans, grants and work-study dollars. In fact, those with these convictions often faced an immediate suspension of their federal financial aid.
For years, reform advocates argued that financial aid suspensions were not effective at preventing drug use. Thankfully, policymakers have finally agreed.
No more drug-related suspensions
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education quietly changed its approach to awarding federal financial aid. While individuals with drug-related convictions must still disclose their convictions, they are no longer at risk of losing government-backed financial aid.
An additional FAFSA requirement
While drug convictions do not affect financial aid determination, applicants have some additional work to do. Specifically, when completing the Free Application for Federal Financial Aid, applicants must prepare a worksheet.
This worksheet gathers information about the drug conviction. Even though it is not yet clear what the U.S. Department of Education intends to do with this information, it is advisable to complete the worksheet honestly and completely.
Not all good news
The change in policy is great news for students who have minor drug convictions on their records. Nevertheless, a drug conviction may cause individuals to face academic discipline or even to lose private scholarships. Furthermore, this type of conviction may make it difficult for students to find gainful employment after graduation.
Ultimately, while federal financial aid is likely to remain intact regardless of drug convictions, students who mount a smart defense may minimize the other consequences that often come with having a conviction on their records.