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Past drug offenses may deny students aid

By Audrey DeAnda
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
November 9, 1999
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When UA students fill out a financial aid form next year, a new question will be included that could affect their eligibility for money.

"If you have never been convicted of any illegal drug offense, enter '1' in the box," the new question states.

The U.S. Department of Education passed a new regulation effective July 1, 2000 that will make students ineligible for federal aid if they have been convicted of a drug offense.

"If you answer anything other than '1' in this box, you're going to get a form back to you from the Department of Education asking you about your conviction," said John Nametz, director of University of Arizona Student Financial Aid.

"That form I have not seen, but presumably it will work step by step to determine whether it's a conviction and where it stops you from getting aid or if it does," he said.

The new regulations make students ineligible to receive Pell Grants, student loans and other common types of federal aid if the student has been convicted of an offense involving the possession or sale of illegal drugs.

If a student has been convicted of drug possession, the student will be ineligible for aid for one year after the date of conviction.

If the student has two convictions for possession, the student will be ineligible for two years and if the student has more than two convictions then they will be ineligible indefinitely.

The law will also affect students convicted of selling drugs.

Students convicted of selling drugs will be ineligible for aid for two years. Those with more than one conviction of selling drugs will be denied indefinitely.

A conviction that was reversed, set aside or removed from the student's record, as well as all juvenile convictions will not work against students.

Nametz said that as of now, the UA does not plan on verifying the information regarding drug convictions provided by students.

"As far as I know, this is totally self-reporting," Nametz said. "From what I can understand, there is no national clearing house of drug convictions."

But Nametz advises students against lying on the application.

"My advice is not going to be to lie on this because you know one year of financial aid missing is nothing compared to some kind of federal conviction for fraud on your application," Nametz said. "We're not going to be involved on checking students on that, but I wouldn't take that kind of chance."

Students may regain financial aid eligibility by successfully completing a drug rehabilitation program.

"As soon as the student completes (the program) they will receive a certificate from the Department of Education," Nametz said. "The student can bring in the certificate and say 'I completed the rehabilitation program, and you can consider me eligible,' and we can use that."

UA Assistant Dean of Students Veda Hunn said university officials are still trying to determine how the law will affect students and what it means for the university.

"My office does not handle criminal cases, and I don't have financial aid records," Hunn said. "There's not a process put in place. It's not clear who's supposed to enforce (the law)."

Nametz said the Department of Education will enforce the law, not the UA financial aid office.

"We're not an enforcement organization here, we're here to give money to students," he said.

Nametz said he thinks drug use among students might decline because of the new application process.

"I think it might because people can be afraid of (the law), because it's real, it's going to be tracked," Nametz said. "I think it may keep students from using (drugs). Yes, I think it might, but that's just a personal opinion."

Keoni Derenne, a communication junior, said he thinks the new financial aid regulations are fair.

"Why should the school be giving money to people who are doing things illegally anyway when they could maybe find someone else who's got better qualifications and is a better person and will actually use that money for their own benefit?" he said.

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