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People's Law Guide

 

College Students, Arrests & Financial Aid

08/19/12

 

For a student attending college or vocational school, a criminal conviction for certain offenses can destroy eligibility to receive federal and state loans, grants and work study programs. Even a plea bargain which resolves a criminal case in a way which at first glance appears to be lenient and favorable, such as an outcome permitting avoidance of a probationary period and/or jail or prison term, may preclude you from receiving student financial aid. The highly technical terms contained within a plea bargain or judge's criminal sentence can make the difference between receiving loan and grant money and being forced to drop out of school.

Tens of Thousands Disqualified Yearly:

More than forty thousand students yearly, about one in every 400 students, is refused financial aid from the federal government as a result of a drug conviction, according to a review of U.S. Department Education records by Students for Sensible Drug Policy, an organization favoring relaxation of certain drug laws. According to the Government Accountability Office, an arm of the U.S. Congress, Pell Grants are denied to about 20,000 students annually because of drug convictions. Neither report tabulates how many additional students lose out when convictions for criminal offenses not involving drugs preclude eligibility for federal and state financial aid or how many persons with criminal records decide not to submit applications.

Federal financial aid to students comes in many forms, including Pell Grants, Stafford Loans, PLUS Loans, Perkins Loans and work study programs. Students convicted of felony drug possession crimes and all offenses involving drug sale or distribution are required to immediately notify their financial aid administrator and are then required to pay back all aid received after the date of conviction. For Florida residents, the state's Office of Student Financial Assistance applies guidelines as strict, and sometimes more strict, than federal rules limiting financial aid eligibility. Also, felony convictions involving crimes of all types creates permanent non-eligibility to the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program, the state's largest student financial aid program, regardless of when the conviction occurred. For Hope Scholarship Credit, a felony drug conviction destroys eligibility for the year that the scholarship credit applies.

 

Student Aid from the Federal Government:

Eligibility remains intact when a finding of guilt is accompanied by a withhold of adjudication, so that no criminal conviction is placed on one's permanent record. Juvenile court convictions won't lead to the denial of student financial aid. Also, the period of non-eligibility lasts during the annual enrollment period for which a student was receiving federal money from grants, loans or work-study programs. A felony drug conviction destroys eligibility for the year that the federal scholarship provides the student with funds.

 

Student Aid from the State of Florida:

Student aid assistance distributed by the State of Florida, such as Bright Future Scholarships and HOPE Scholarship Credits, are not affected by criminal case outcomes when a finding of guilt is accompanied by a withhold of adjudication, meaning that no criminal conviction was placed on one's permanent record. Also, convictions appearing on one's juvenile record won't lead to the denial of eligibility. Certain types of financial aid distributed by Florida, such as SMART / National Science and mathematics Access to Retain Talent, may only be provided to students who were approved to receive Pell Grants within the same payment period. As such, a drug conviction which disqualifies receipt of federal student aid would cause discontinuation of this type of financial aid from the State of Florida.

 

Ways to Maintain Eligibility:

The consequences of an arrest does not have to cause the loss of eligibility to financial aid packages. Even if found guilty of a felony criminal offense, the terms utilized in the phrasing of a criminal sentence can permit on-going eligibility for student loans. Also, many types of federal and state financial aid are available regardless of the age of the student seeking it. That's why its so important that even if you are not currently enrolled in college or vocational school, or perhaps not anticipating pursing a higher education, you should retain the services of a criminal defense attorney who can strive to obtain a case resolution which will permit future eligibility for government-issued financial aid.

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