Drug Convictions and Federal Financial Aid

admin ., Federal Student Aid Programs

As a direct result of the amendment made to the 2001 Higher Education Act, federal financial aid was suspended for two years for any student convicted.  Such amendment was made to do two primary things: 1) Discourage students, or potential students, from violating drug laws; and 2) Reducing the amount of federal tax dollars that were subsequently funding financial aid for those convicted.  However, economists Michael Lovenheim and Emily Owens found that these amendments have actually had substantially negative affects to college attendance and to our economy.

For instance, they found that the majority of drug convictions for young people increased the amount of time between high school graduation and college enrollment.  They found that high school graduates, convicted or not, that did not directly enroll in college were highly unlikely ever to do so.  Those that do not acquire a college degree never reach their full earning potential, and thus, do not pay as many taxes as they would have had they graduated.  In addition, despite the amendment’s desire to curb convictions, Lovenheim and Owen’s study found that it actually did not decrease or increase such convictions.  However, they did discover that individuals that were convicted and did not subsequently initiate or complete their college education, they were likely to reoffend.

This study is an incredibly important one to consider.  If, as a result of this amendment, it can be confirmed that it is not actually reducing the number of drug convictions awarded, nor is it actually saving federal tax dollars when the tax revenue generated is decreased, then why should such amendment remain in place.  In addition, if it can be confirmed that the amendment is also contributing to reoccurring offenses, then would it not be best to serve this population better?  There are a series of scholarships for the best students with the cleanest record, but perhaps there is something more that can be done to encourage these young people to enroll and complete their education.  [1]


[1] Freakonomics. (2013, 02 07). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.freakonomics.com/2013/02/07/financial-aid-for-college-students-with-drug-convictions/


Written by: Brittany Barker, HEAG consultant, Email: bbarker@heag.us