I Would Have Gone to College, But I Got High


The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a conservative education think tank headed by former Assistant Secretary of Education Chester E. Finn Jr., editorializes against the Higher Education Act's denial of federal aid to students convicted of drug offenses:

Eighteen-year-olds are not noted for their rational thinking. It's naive to assume that the high school senior, offered some marijuana at a party, will base his or her inhalation decision on calculations of opportunity cost and forthcoming Pell Grant dollars.

That lack of maturity doesn't excuse the 18-year-old's behavior. But it does challenge the economic justification behind withholding student aid from convicted drug users. If the fear of being arrested and temporarily jailed doesn't stop an impulsive young person from enjoying a little weed, are we to believe that concerns over future college loans will do the trick? That's just bad thinking.

So while the federal government has set up a dubious incentive for young people to shun drugs, it has inadvertently created a direct incentive–by withholding money–for young people to avoid college.

It's not exactly a ringing condemnation of the war on drugs, especially since it's preceded by three paragraphs emphasizing that Drugs Are Bad, but it's notable coming from an organization headed by Finn, a longtime associate of Bill Bennett who worked for the former drug czar at the Education Department.

I hasten to add that I'm not endorsing taxpayer-funded grants and loans to college students. What I find objectionable about the policy is a feature the Fordham Foundation barely alludes to: the bizarre decision to treat pot smokers as less worthy of aid than predatory criminals.

[Thanks to Chaim Katz for the link.]