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Rules change on FAFSA drug offense question

By Irene Hsiao
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
February 29, 2000
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UA students who leave the new drug offense question blank on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid can still receive financial aid because of a U.S. Department of Education decision last week.

In response to more than 100,000 applicants who left the question blank, department officials decided to add a warning in the Student Aid Report to those who didn't fill out the question.

Under the new rules, applications missing a response for the question that asks if the student has ever been convicted of any illegal drug offense will still be processed, but students must alert officials if they have been convicted.

Before, schools would not process applications that didn't answer the question, said Lisa Cain, spokeswoman for Student Financial Assistance for the Department of Education.

Cain said students who left the question blank thought it didn't apply to them, which slowed the processing of the forms.

It could slow the process even more because March is the peak month to receive FAFSAs, she added.

UA officials said they have not encountered any problems with the drug offense question.

"It was kind of a surprise," said John Nametz, director of the University of Arizona Student Financial Aid, about the change. "The correction came before we had a problem."

The question resulted from the Higher Education Act of 1998, and was intended to stop students convicted of selling or buying drugs from receiving aid.

Students could be ineligible for a year with one drug offense, and two years for two offenses. Participation in a drug rehabilitation could make the student eligible again.

The drug offense question is the only one of its kind on the FAFSA to include a telephone number and Web site meant to instruct students on how to answer.

Nametz said there hasn't been much of a problem at the UA since students are very adept at filling out forms.

"I think what they've done is make it more reasonable to deal with," he said.

UA students had mixed reactions to the change.

Nutrition senior Lindsay Kimball said receiving financial aid should not be based on drug convictions.

"I don't think the box should even be there," she said. "Just not to check a box and immediately get discounted seems unfair."

Kimball said she doesn't see the relevance of the question.

But Kristen Mott, a health education junior, agrees with the addition.

"I think it should be there," she said. "People are going to answer any way they want to answer it."

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