High Time to End High Times: the Pros and Cons of Drug Testing for Students Receiving Financial Aid

Though college offers the opportunity for educational growth, students often regard their college years as a time for exploration of independence and experimentation. For many students, MSU is their last stop in enjoying minimal stress before becoming overwhelmed by the responsibility of adulthood. However, the enjoyment of college life generally comes with moral and financial price tags, as students often test the boundaries of society and life through underage drinking and illegal drug use. Students have a right to experience life and the risks associated with their choices. Yet, while I support students indulging in their new found freedom, it should not come at the cost of taxpayers. Ultimately a student who finds these illegal activities, along with potential financial penalties, affordable should find the costs of higher education similarly affordable. Why, then, are student funds not spent on tuition instead?

Over 80 percent of students enrolled in public universities are receiving federal financial aid. The largest component of federal aid is the Pell Grant, which can provide sums of up to $5,775 per undergraduate student. The Pell Grant Program is federally funded and does not need to be repaid. This is a lot of money wasted considering over half of MSU’s students fail to graduate or drop out shortly after enrollment. According to the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, there is a significant association between illicit drug use and discontinuous enrollment. These dropouts are squandering tax-backed funds. As a society, it has been determined that financial assistance should be granted to the student populace in order to better societal outcomes by improving its standards with higher educated individuals. Taxpayers do not get what they pay for when the federally aided student fails to graduate. Those most at fault are the stereotypical party students, whose collegiate pastimes are financed by taxpayers. Around 40 percent of American college students have been or are currently using illicit drugs and about 80 percent drink alcohol. No percentage of federal funds should support illicit drug use or any facet of the party life. How, though, can we effectively cut federal aid for reckless students while maintaining aid for responsible students? One solution is to identify the reckless students through drug testing.

Students must meet certain requirements to be eligible for federal financial aid. One of the requirements should include being drug free. I believe the party years of students should be funded by the party students themselves and not taxpayers. If a student identifies partying, underage drinking, and illicit drug use as affordable priorities in their life, they should put in the effort to be self-sustaining by finding employment. Furthermore, if these partygoers prioritize their recreations over education, they should pay their higher education bills out of their own pockets and not those of the taxpayer. 84 percent of employers drug test potential employees prior to hiring them. This means the majority of federal aid is funded by individuals who had to pass drug tests in order to earn the very wages that are taxed. When drug tests are required for the workforce to earn wages, drug tests should be required for the students to benefit from the earnings of that workforce. In addition to ensuring tax-funded programs do not end up putting money in the pockets of drug dealers, drug testing can prevent addicts and even dealers from attending in the first place. This has the potential to positively impact the university as a whole.

One of the obstacles present in establishing a campus-wide drug testing program is the cost. The average drug test costs around $30 per person. Though testing could be provided through university health services at no cost to the student, the cost to the university or government of recurring tests could be higher than what the outcome is worth. The state of Oklahoma recently spent roughly $386,000 to drug test 3,342 welfare applicants to find that only 297 tested positive for drug use. Furthermore, students may find drug testing to be an invasion of individual privacy. However, failure to pass a drug test does not herald public scrutiny and therefore does not make students’ private lives public.

In place of recurring drug tests, what I believe would be a viable option is the implementation of a single drug test upon applying for federal aid. In the same manner that the average laborer would submit to a drug test in the initial stages of becoming employed, so would a student of MSU requesting federal student aid submit to a drug test through the university’s health services; and, just as an applicant would lose their employment opportunities with a positive drug test, if a student failed to provide clean results, they would lose their opportunity for federal aid. Students should be provided the same opportunities presented to the labor force. College is a window that provides a glimpse of the professional world that will envelop its graduates. As the majority of employers require pre-employment drug tests, so should universities require an initial drug test prior to the disbursement of federal aid. After all, we strive to be a society of equality.