Drug Bust = No Student Loans

Students convicted of drug offenses will be barred from receiving federal college tuition aid for one year from date of conviction and, in some cases, permanently under rules taking effect next summer.

The regulations are based on a law enacted last year designed to reduce waste in the student loan system. They do not apply to juvenile records, and some students will be able to retain eligibility by completing drug rehabilitation or by having their convictions overturned.

College entrants must report any drug convictions on forms for federal financial aid, including Pell grants and student loans. Some student groups complain that the new rules are counterproductive.

"It's kind of backward to deal with a drug policy by denying people an education," said Jamie Pueschel, a 1998 college graduate who is now legislative director of the Washington-based U.S. Student Association.

Students caught lying about drug use could be prosecuted for lying to the federal government.

Justice Department officials say there's no database designating student drug offenses, but a statement released by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., cites a University of Michigan study that said 33.5 percent of college students had used illegal drugs in 1995.

A recent nationwide survey indicated that drug use among young adults ages 18 to 25 has risen in the last five years, with 16.1 percent, or 4.5 million, saying they were current users of an illegal drug, meaning they had used the drug in the month before they were surveyed.

D. Jean Veta, the Education Department's deputy general counsel, had no estimate for how many students the regulations could affect, but added: "If we find out a student has lied, we not only require repayment of any aid received, but the student would be at risk for prosecution for lying to the federal government.

"We are very concerned about students being truthful about all aspects of the financial aid application," Veta said.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who unsuccessfully sought to limit the student loan legislation, said such provisions could unfairly affect young people who were not serious drug users.

"Obviously if someone is a drug dealer or a serious user, that is a reason to say no," Frank said Monday. "This kind of blanket ban is a mistake."

Students for Sensible Drug Policy, which opposes the law, plans to meet in Washington for a conference on that and other issues next month.

Under the regulations, which were released last Friday, a first possession conviction will block aid for a year, while a sales conviction will bar aid for two years. Students convicted of possessing drugs for a second tim will lose aid for two years; a third time, permanently. A student convicted twice of selling drugs will lose aid permanently.

Colleges won't have to police their students. Instead, students will be asked to report their own criminal records on aid forms subject to review by federal officials. Students must complete forms in each year of eligibility.