Editorial: Strife Over FAFSA Aid Provision Remains Symbolic

In late January, the Associate Students at UC Berkeley created a scholarship program that would grant aid to students considered ineligible for federal financial aid due to a provision denying grants to students who have been convicted of drug offenses. The largely symbolic $400 stipend is meant as a protest against question 31 on the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid, which is the stumbling block for any student who has been convicted of a drug offense as a college student or while in high school.

But an oft-overlooked facet of the controversy is how few students are actually affected by the FAFSA proviso. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the legislation affects less than half of one percent of the roughly 14 million students who file FAFSA applications each year. And at UC Berkeley, no students have stepped forward to claim the new grant.

Furthermore, even if a student is denied aid, there are still several ways he or she can reverse the decision, such as enrolling in a rehabilitation program.

We support the Berkeley Associated Students in their opposition to a provision that singles out drug use (all other felonies have no such restriction) and unfairly punishes applicants who have already served out drug sentences.

But while the stipend is noble in its goal, the limited effect of the FAFSA drug provision makes this battle one of principle — yet another political tiff about drugs that has little tangible impact.