Quick Responses to Tough HEA
How to Assemble an Effective
to Tough HEA Questions
Q. #1: Doesn't the drug provision permit students
to regain eligibility if they successfully complete a drug
A. While financial aid can be restored after successful
completion of a treatment program, the drug provision does
not allocate any money for treatment. An individual who
is unable to afford college without public aid will probably
have difficulty paying for private treatment as well.
Additionally, the treatment provision is overly broad and
fails to distinguish between casual drug use and serious
abuse. A student caught smoking a joint, for example, is
no more in need of a drug treatment program than a student
fined for underage drinking is in need of treatment for
Q. #2: Doesn't withholding aid to students with
drug convictions mean that more money is available to students
who haven't broken the law?
A. No, an individual student's federal financial
aid is determined by a preexisting need-based equation set
up by the Department of Education. There is no mechanism
for diverting aid denied to drug offenders to others; the
money simply reverts to the overall Department of Education
budget. Additionally, the provision has significant administrative
Q. #3: Doesn't the drug provision deter students
from using taxpayer money to buy drugs?
A. First, most federal financial aid goes to tuition
and room and board. Also, there is no reason to believe
that this federal law does anything to remedy the problem
of drug abuse on campuses. Judges handling drug cases already
have the option of denying drug offenders federal benefits,
and school administrators have the power to expel problem
students. These are the people who know the students best,
and they should be the ones who decide their educational
futures - not the federal government.
Q. #4: Won't this drug provision keep dangerous
drug dealers off campuses?
A. No, the vast majority of applicants whose aid
is being cut by this law were not convicted of drug dealing,
but drug possession. Marijuana, for example, is by far the
most common illegal drug for which Americans are arrested.
And according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report for the
United States in 1999, 704,812 marijuana arrests were made.
Of those arrests, 620,541 - or 88% - were for possession
The profile of the typical victim of this drug provision
is a young person from a middle or lower-income family who
has already been punished for a misdemeanor marijuana possession
conviction. And because most of the law's victims are young
people, they are likely to be first-time offenders.
School administrators already have the power to expel students
whom the deem to pose a threat to safety. Campus safety
is a serious concern that must be addressed, but the HEA
drug provision does nothing to keep campuses safe or drug-free.
Q. #5: Shouldn't actions have consequences?
A. All actions have their consequences - and consequences
for drug offenses are often quite severe already. How many
times does a nonviolent drug offender need to be punished
for the same actions? These would-be students having their
aid cut already paid whatever price the criminal justice
system demands. How does it make sense to continually punish
young people in such a way that limits their ability to
get an education and improve their lives?
Asa Hutchinson, newly-appointed chief of the US Drug Enforcement
Administration, publicly supports allowing convicted drug
offenders to remain eligible for federal student aid. Such
aid, he said, is an important component of letting drug
offenders “get back to leading useful, productive lives.”
Q. #6: Isn't federal financial aid a privilege, not
A. Financial aid is a policy, and a program funded
by taxpayers. The people affected by this law, and their
families, all pay taxes - and they have already been punished.
It is unfair to punish them a second time for the same offense.
Equally important, financial aid is a poor or middle class
student's lifeline to a future of self-sufficiency. Financial
aid is hope for those who might otherwise be destined to
poverty, even if they have the ability to excel.
America's best interests are served when its citizens have
higher education. The economic benefits include increased
tax revenues, greater productivity, increased consumption,
and decreased reliance on government programs.
The social benefits are also striking. Studies indicate
that higher education correlates with decreased crime, increased
charitable giving, community service and participation in
civic life (Reaping the Benefits, Institute for Higher Education
Q. #7: If the Department of Education does not provide
a racial breakdown of the applicants whose aid had been
cut, how can we know for sure that the law discriminates
based on race?
A. Even though the Free Application for Federal
Student Aid (FAFSA) does not ask about race, we know that
people of color are disproportionately targeted in the drug
war.” For example, unresolved problems in the criminal justice
system, such as racial profiling, lead to African Americans
making up 55% of all drug convictions, even though African-Americans
comprise only 13% of illegal drug users (source: The Sentencing
Project). While we don't know for certain how much of this
disparity exists within the subset of the American populace
that is seeking to attend college, it would be unreasonable
after looking at this extreme statistics to believe that
there isn't some racial disparity - and the law's supporters
made no attempt to determine this before passing the law.
Even President Bush and Attorney General John Aschcroft
acknowledge the problem of racial profiling in policing,
and have promised to address it. But until law enforcement
tactics and the criminal justice system are radically reformed,
this provision spreads the inequalities of those institutions
into the realm of higher education.
Q. #8: Why should we (student governments or legislators)
be concerned about this drug provision and why should we
take our time to address it?
A. We should be concerned, because any student who
receives federal financial aid is a potential victim of
this law. (Be sure to check with your school's financial
aid office to find out if any students at your school have
been affected). According to the latest data from the Department
of Education, made available in August, 2002, more than
47,000 would-be students lost financial aid eligibility
for the 2001-2002 school year -- plus an unknown number
who rightly or wrongly believed they were ineligible and
didn't bother to apply.
Even if our campus (to student government) hasn't been hit
yet, we can be sure that it will not be spared the consequences
of this law. As student leaders, we must stand up for our
fellow students and do whatever we can to make sure that
educational opportunity is not the next victim of Congress'
failed drug war.
How to Assemble
an Effective Meeting
Your first meeting is a coming out party. As such, it is a
good idea to get as many people to attend as possible. A crowd
attracts a crowd, so beat the drum loudly and get them packed
Set up a weekday evening event
about two weeks in advance,
and make sure the timing doesn't conflict with exams or holidays.
Avoid Thursdays or Fridays for obvious reasons. Get a reservation
for a medium-sized room in a central campus location, but
don't get an oversized room in order to avoid having too many
empty chairs. It's always preferable to have a room that looks
No place is too sacred for a flyer.
should be posted all around your campus in high-traffic, high-visibility
places where they are sure to be seen. Such ideal places are
elevators, water fountains, restrooms, building entrances
and exits. Check out ssdp.org
for a sampling of flyers, which you can manipulate and use.
Get your campus paper to post the meeting info
day of or before the event by sending a press release a few
days in advance. (See HEA Media Guide: Write
a Media Advisory and Holding
a Media Event.)
You may even get a campus reporter
to attend, so prepare for a brief interview. (See HEA Media
Guide: Tips for Print
You should also try to post meeting
alerts on every campus list serve you can get on.
Person-to-person communication is always the best.
That is why you and your supporters should set up an information
table in a central campus location the day of and before the
meeting. This will give you an excellent opportunity to perfect
your persuasive skills and invite more people to the big meeting.
Create a captive audience
on the day of the meeting
by asking your professors to let you give a three-minute plug
at the beginning of your classes. Then, during the same day,
hand out palm flyers (a flyer cut from 1/2 or 1/4 sheet of
paper saves on printing) advertising the meeting to your classmates.
Make sure all printed materials contain the ssdp.org
they can check us out on the web.
Sign ideas for tables and meeting:
Make a big drawing
of our insignia of the college grad with the prison bars on
a white sheet. Above the insignia create a big, simple captions
such as, “Should the Drug War Cut College Opportunities?”
or “Drug War Cuts College Aid: A Bad Idea.” Effective banners
and signs are big, bold, colorful, provocative, and plentiful.
In addition to showing earnestness and commitment, they bombard
Banners and signs answer this question: Why is this room
or table different from all other rooms or tables?
forget to save and use them for later.
The contact list is life.
When the meeting comes around,
you must be sure to get everybody to put down their name,
phone number, and e-mail address before they leave the meeting.
Have each person provide as much info as possible and be sure
they write it down legibly (people often scribble their info
down and it is useless later on). This growing list of supporters
will be the key to your continuing success. You should take
pains to cultivate this list and keep it growing.
Be sure to have an established agenda and don't go over
the allotted time.
Set out what you want to accomplish
beforehand and stick to it. You may want to get one of those
big marker boards in order to write down agenda items that
everybody can see. Start by introducing yourself and briefly
explaining why you called this meeting. It's a good idea to
seat chairs in a circle so everybody can see one another.
Continue the introductions by having everybody say their name
and give a brief reason why they decided to attend. Then open
the meeting to suggestions on what your group wants to accomplish
this semester (e.g. student government endorsement, lobby
Congress, increase membership, etc.).
Provide printed materials
for attendees to read after
the meeting. These should include articles from national
publications covering our student campaign
to repeal the
HEA drug law. Make plenty of copies.
Stick around after the meeting
to find out who seems
willing and able to give serious time to the new organization.
This will help you determine who will make up your core group.
Don't forget to thank everyone for coming.