Federal Student Financial Aid Penalties for Drug Law Violations

A federal or state drug conviction can disqualify a student for Federal Student Aid funds.  Convictions only count against a student for aid eligibility purposes if they were for an offense that occurred during a period of enrollment for which the student was receiving Title IV aid – they do not count if the offense was not during such a period, unless the student was denied federal benefits for drug trafficking by a federal or state judge.  A conviction that was reversed, set aside, or removed from the student’s record does not count, nor does one received when the student was a juvenile, unless the student was tried as an adult.
Students should contact the Financial Aid Office if they have any questions related to convictions of possessing or selling illegal drugs and how to regain eligibility.  If a student becomes ineligible for financial aid due to a drug conviction, the Financial Aid Office will provide a written notice to the student of his/her loss of eligibility and the methods whereby s/he can become eligible again. 
The chart below illustrates the period of ineligibility for Federal Student Aid funds, depending on whether the conviction was for sale or possession and whether the student had previous offenses.  (A conviction for sale of drugs includes conviction for conspiring to sell drugs.)


Possession of illegal drugs

Sale of illegal drugs

1st Offense 1 year from date of conviction 2 years from date of conviction
2nd Offense 2 years from date of conviction Indefinite period
3+ Offenses Indefinite period  

If the student was convicted of both possessing and selling illegal drugs, and the periods of ineligibility are different, the student will be ineligible for the longer period.
A student regains eligibility the day after the period of ineligibility ends (i.e., for a 1st or 2nd offense) or when the student successfully completes a qualified drug rehabilitation program that includes passing two unannounced drug tests given by such a program.  Further drug convictions will make the student ineligible again.
Students denied eligibility for an indefinite period can regain eligibility after completing any of the following options:

  • Having the conviction reversed, set aside or removed from the student’s record so that fewer than two convictions for sale or three convictions for possession remain on the record;

  • Successfully completing an approved rehabilitation program which includes passing two unannounced drug tests from such a program

  • Completing two unannounced drug tests which are part of an approved rehab program

In such cases, the nature and dates of the remaining convictions will determine when the student regains eligibility.  It is the student’s responsibility to certify that a rehabilitation program has been successfully completed.

When a student regains eligibility during an award year, the school may award Pell and Campus-based aid for the current payment period. 

Standards for a qualified drug rehabilitation program

A qualified drug rehabilitation program must include at least two unannounced drug tests and satisfy at least one of the following requirements:

  • Be qualified to receive funds directly or indirectly from a federal, state, or local government program

  • Be qualified to receive payment directly or indirectly from a federally or state-licensed insurance company

  • Be administered or recognized by a federal, state, or local government agency or court

  • Be administered or recognized by a federally or state-licensed hospital, health clinic, or medical doctor

A student who will need to enter such a program should be sure that the program meets these requirements.  If a student certifies that he/she has successfully complete a drug rehabilitation program, but the school has reason to believe that the program does not meet the requirements, the school much find out if it does before paying the student any Federal Student Aid funds.

**Note:  Above information provided from the 2015 – 2016 Federal Student Aid Handbook.