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Rule Barring Aid for Drug Convictions May Harm At-Risk Students, Study Finds


THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION.  FEBRUARY 4, 2013.  A rule that bars students who have been convicted of selling or possessing drugs from receiving federal financial aid may inadvertently harm at-risk students without actually reducing crime, according to the results of a study published on Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

That rule, administered as part of the 1998 amendments to the Higher Education Act, can withhold aid eligibility for one or two years, depending on a student’s criminal record. The study examined how college enrollment changed, among drug offenders compared with non-offenders, when the rule went into effect, more than a decade ago.

The study found evidence that the ban had caused a “large decline” in the percentage of drug offenders who enrolled in college within two years of graduating from high school, particularly for students living in urban areas and those whose mothers never enrolled in college. The study also found no evidence that the rule had deterred drug offenses, meaning that it “lowered the lifetime earnings of these at-risk students without generating benefits to society through reduced crime,” according to a paper describing its findings.

The authors of the paper are Michael Lovenheim and Emily G. Owens, both of Cornell University’s department of policy analysis and management.