Although the holiday season is here, North Carolina’s college students can be forgiven for acting like Dr. Seuss’s Grinch. A glance at any academic calendar quickly reveals their reason for a dour demeanor: first semester finals. Anyone familiar with the grind of finals week remembers the intense cramming sessions, exhaustion associated with pulling all-nighters and last-minute panic attacks that hit at the very worst time. It’s no surprise, then, that students may attempt to erase the stress at the end of final examinations with drug or booze-fuelled revelry.

For students choosing to engage in these stress-relieving activities; however, many will find that they are exchanging one stressor for another. As a result of an amendment to the Higher Education Act (HEA), students convicted of drug possession or intent to sell are prohibited from receiving federal financial aid. Previous to 2006, these penalties were more severe than they are currently, as the loans were put on hold for any past drug conviction. There was no statute of limitations for this punishment. As a result, 40-year-old adults returning to college were prohibited from receiving loans due to the convictions they received in decades past. Today, loans are suspended only if the offenses take place when the student is in school.

For those found possessing “just a little bit of weed,” though, the repercussions of their offenses can be long-lasting. First-time offenders are ineligible for one year of financial aid. As college students know, the ability to graduate on time hinges on passing classes that are prerequisites for higher-level courses. Select classes may be offered only once a year, so students who miss their enrollment window for these classes are out of luck until the classes are offered at a later time. The momentum lost during an academic school year may not be regained.

While many students may feel taking time off from school will not have an impact on their academic careers, findings provided by the National Center for Education Statistics and the Department of Education tell a different story. In its study of students requiring financial aid, the National Center for Education Statistics discovered 63 percent of students depended on some form of aid. For these students, having a loan package suspended meant that most of these students had insufficient funds for enrollment. As a result, they had to leave college. According to the Department of Education, 36 percent of students who left their four-year school after their freshman year did not return after five years. 50 percent of students who left a two-year school did not return after five years. In these cases, momentum lost during that one year of school was not regained.

Here is the takeaway from this blog: tell your college-age children to remember the repercussions of their actions should they be tempted to smoke pot to relieve a little bit of pressure. If they are found possessing illicit substances, they should not accept a misdemeanor plea. In accepting the plea to pay a small fine, they will find a larger penalty awaits them when they lose their financial aid.