Colleges rebel against US drug law that bars aid

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Skirting a federal policy, Yale University will become the fourth college in the country to reimburse students who lose financial aid because of convictions for drug possession.

Yale joins Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., and Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania in adopting such a policy in response to the federal "Drug-Free Student Aid" law. Western Washington University in Bellingham gives a $750 scholarship to those who lose aid.

The Ivy League university will not reimburse students convicted of drug offenses other than possession, The Hartford Courant reported yesterday.

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The law prohibits students convicted of drug offenses from receiving federal financial aid. Students lose their aid temporarily or permanently, depending on the severity and number of offenses.

"It comes from a desire that Yale students not have their education interrupted because they could no longer afford school," Yale spokesman Tom Conroy says. Mr. Conroy says university officers approved the change and told students of it last week.

The law has been in effect since 1998, but only since President Bush has been in office has it been enforced.

Under the federal rules, those with one drug-possession offense are ineligible for federal college aid for one year after conviction. A second drug-possession or first drug-sale conviction means ineligibility for two years. More convictions bar aid indefinitely, unless the offender undergoes drug rehabilitation.

As of early March, about 47,000 of the 10.5 million federal-aid applicants for the school year faced possible denial because of the law, according to the US Education Department. Yale administrators say no Yale student is in that group.

Groups that support Yale's decision say it will spur momentum for their cause. "This sends a message loud and clear not just to the education community, but also to the lawmaking community," says Darrell Rogers, the national outreach coordinator for Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

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