Education is seen as the best means to a brighter future.
From a young age, we are told that if we do well in school, we can be anything we want to be.
Above all, education is supposed to be the way out of poverty and crime: a way to transcend your upbringing and forge your own path in life. It is ironic, therefore, that education is accessible to so few, and sometimes not at all for those who could benefit from it most.
In particular, I am talking about individuals who, at some point in their young lives, have been convicted of a drug offense.
Regardless of your view on drugs or crime, if we are consistent in our claim that education is instrumental in lifting people out of a crime-filled life, we must concede that criminals could surely gain more from this influence than more secure individuals.
Currently, individuals with drug-related offenses on their records are ineligible to receive federal financial aid for higher education. This is the only type of offense, other than a felony, that disqualifies an individual from federal aid.
Whether that is fair is not my point. The reason the criminal system doesn’t work is this: Our criminals fail to be rehabilitated in prison and, upon release, are no longer treated as reliable society members. Without a means of upward mobility, those convicted of criminal offenses often fall back into a loop of poverty and crime.
It is absurd, therefore, that those individuals are not offered equal opportunity to rise out of their situation.
While it is true that most universities will not reject a student because of a drug offense, the ability to get student aid is what most students–especially those who come from lower income families—rely on.
To be both barred from education and, in turn, meaningful employment is a serious injustice to those earnestly trying to turn their lives around.
I was struck recently by how easy it is to ruin one’s life with one tiny mistake. Mistakes shouldn’t dictate your life.
I am a firm believer that education truly is a means of enlightenment and transcendence, but our education system is letting down those who need it most.
If the purpose of higher education is to create the next generation of innovators, then we are leaving out a large portion of promising individuals.
Our education system accepts those who have been privileged enough to have had a decent education. It accepts those lucky enough to have made it to college without a criminal record, or at least lucky enough to have a means to pay for tuition without aid.
I acknowledge that this does not define everyone’s college experience, but it is reality for many. How can we expect to claim that education is a way out of poverty and crime if poverty and crime seem to disqualify many from obtaining that education?
Education should be available to all, not just to those who meet the socioeconomic requirements and pass a background check. In fact, education should be available especially to those who have made mistakes, because affordable education is the most effective way out of the cycle of poverty.
We cannot expect to claim that our education system has succeeded as long as those who wish to better themselves are turned away.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 28, 2015 print edition of The Echo.
image via kiplinger.com