For many, experimenting with drugs is part of college. But, the penalties of getting caught may be more severe than at any other time in their lives.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, students convicted of a drug-related felony or misdemeanor can lose their financial aid for a period of time, depending on the charge and previous offenses. Possession of illegal drugs can lead to a year or more of ineligibility, depending on the number of offenses.
Convictions for drug distribution carry steeper penalties. The first conviction results in two years of ineligibility, and subsequent offenses can bring indefinite ineligibility unless a student completes a drug rehabilitation program, passes two drug tests or has a conviction voided.
“It’s a huge penalty,” acknowledges Mary Beth Mackin, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater dean of students.
Mackin says UW-Whitewater’s policy is to suspend students caught selling drugs on campus. According to UW System’s administrative code, any suspension applies to all UW System schools and can last up to two years. Students cannot be present on any UW campus without written consent.
Students may also reach a settlement with the administration to shorten the suspension by participating in drug counseling, Mackin says. Otherwise, they can request a disciplinary hearing.
Even if a student avoids a criminal conviction, he or she may still be suspended because selling drugs is a violation of the university’s code of conduct, she says.
Mackin says she works with students and their families to ensure those who are suspended can continue their studies by completing transferable credits at a community college or private institution.
“I would like students to remain engaged and productive and to understand that this is not an end to your dreams,” Mackin says. “It’s just a bump in the road.”
But Stephen Richards, a UW-Oshkosh professor of criminal justice, says a felony drug conviction could hurt these chances. Other colleges may refuse to admit students with a criminal record. Given that such cases are listed on the state’s online court database, the student also may have a hard time getting a job or an apartment, Richards says.