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1.6.4 Drug Convictions

Students convicted under federal or state law of the sale or possession of illegal drugs are suspended from federal financial assistance programs.223 Prior to July 1, 2006, eligibility was suspended for individuals convicted of drug offenses either while enrolled or prior to enrolling in higher education. As of July 1, 2006, however, a student will become ineligible for aid only if the conviction is for conduct that occurred during a period of enrollment for which the student was receiving Title IV program assistance.224

Eligibility may be suspended for one year from the date of a first conviction on a drug possession charge, two years from the date of a second conviction, and indefinitely for a third.225 Students convicted of selling drugs lose eligibility for two years from the date of a first conviction and indefinitely for a second.226 Determinations or adjudications arising out of juvenile proceedings are not considered convictions.227

Eligibility can be restored if the student satisfactorily completes a drug rehabilitation program228 or if the conviction is reversed, set aside, or removed from his or her record.229

Research has demonstrated that the policy of suspending student aid eligibility due to drug convictions is ineffective at deterring illegal drug use and reduces college access for individuals with such convictions.230

For example, a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that the law barring federal financial aid to students with drug convictions negatively affected their college-going rates.231 However, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (formerly known as the General Accounting Office) was unable to find any evidence that suspending student aid eligibility helped to deter drug use.232

In 2016, Senators Bob Casey and Orrin Hatch introduced a bipartisan bill,233 called the Stopping Unfair Collateral Consequences from Ending Student Success (SUCCESS) Act, which proposes to repeal the section of the Higher Education Act that denies financial aid to students convicted of a drug offense. A similar bill was introduced in the House of Representatives in March 2017.234 As of October 2019, these bills have not been enacted.


  • 223 {219} 20 U.S.C. § 1091(r); 34 C.F.R. § 668.40.

  • 224 {220} 20 U.S.C. § 1091(r); 34 C.F.R. § 668.40(a)(1).

  • 225 {221} 34 C.F.R. § 668.40(b)(1).

  • 226 {222} 34 C.F.R. § 668.40(b)(2).

  • 227 {223} 34 C.F.R. § 668.40(a)(2).

  • 228 {224} 34 C.F.R. § 668.40(c).

  • 229 {225} 34 C.F.R. § 668.40(a)(2) (definition of “conviction”).

  • 230 {226} Detailed information—including updated advocacy efforts about this issue—can be found on the Students for Sensible Drug Policy’s website, available at See also Andrew Kreighbaum, New Push to Drop Drug Offenses as Barrier to Student Aid, Inside Higher Ed (Mar. 7, 2018), available at

  • 231 {227} Doug Lederman, Study: Lack of Aid Deterred College-Going by Students with Drug Offenses, Inside Higher Ed (Feb. 5, 2013) (discussing Michael F. Lovenheim & Emily G. Owens, Does Federal Financial Aid Affect College Enrollment? Evidence from Drug Offenders and the Higher Education Act of 1998 (Nat’l Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 18749, Feb. 2013), available at

  • 232 {228} See U.S. Gov’t Accountability Office, GAO-05-238, Drug Offenders: Various Factors May Limit the Impact of Federal Laws that Provide for Denial of Selected Benefits (Sept. 26, 2005).

    The Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance has also recommended elimination of the requirement. See Advisory Comm. on Student Fin. Assistance, The Student Aid Gauntlet: Making Access to College Simple and Certain 16 (Jan. 23, 2005) (available online as companion material to this treatise).

  • 233 {229} S. 2557, 114th Cong. (2d Sess. 2016).

  • 234 {230} H.R. 1432, 115th Cong. (1st Sess. 2017).