Felons can expect to have a hard time finding decent work upon release. While there are many jobs, felons are often competing with non-felons. And employers are often biased towards hiring those with no criminal history.
For a felon to improve their chances of being hired, education is key. This can begin in prison and should continue after release. Once on the outside, however, cost becomes an issue.
Getting financial aid is often a must. It, thus, raises the query: Will a felony affect the FAFSA?
This query is valid as FAFSA is a main source of federal funding that can be put towards study.
Many felons enter prison at a young age. Long before they have had a chance to learn a trade or earn a degree.
When back to society, they are older with a lack of training and work history. This often ends in having to settle for low paying jobs. Even with top employers, they will have to start at lower positions.
Another ripple effect is that with low income, many felons are forced into poor public housing. This can mean being at the mercy of bad landlords. It can also have your family living in an unsafe environment.
Jobs with good wages that can support a family require effort to find and secure. Being able to put good academic credentials on your resume can help with this.
However, with most felons leaving prison poor, it can be tough to afford such training.
Let’s look at the type of federal assistance students apply for just this purpose.
What is FAFSA?
The acronym stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It is an official form provided by the U.S. Department of Education. It is used to decide how much aid you qualify for.
Low-interest loans are given to eligible students. Those with an ‘exceptional financial need’ may also qualify for federal grants and subsidized loans.
On the FAFSA form, applicants provide info on family income and assets. The ED can then work out the amount of college costs family resources can afford. This is referred to as the Expected Family Contribution(EFC).
The info is then used to fix the amount of need-based and/or non-need-based aid. The options available can include:
- Federal Pell Grants
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants
- Direct Unsubsidized loans
- Federal Direct Subsidized Loans
- Federal PLUS loans
- Teacher Education Access for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants
- Federal Work-Study
Grants do not need to be repaid and are thus preferable. They do, however, have amount limits and can be restricted to certain schools.
Federal loans are generally cheaper than private loans. They also offer more flexibility in repayment terms.
So the question then becomes, are felons eligible for these types of aid, and how do they apply.
Do Felons Qualify for Federal Student Aid?
Happily, many felons can get federal financial aid. Most do not bother with FAFSA because they wrongly think they are barred. There are however certain conditions.
To apply for FAFSA you are required to:
- Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen
- Have a valid Social Security Number
- Register for Selective Service, if a male between the ages of 18-25 years
- Have earned a high school diploma or GED
- Been accepted to a participating college or career school
For felons still in prison, federal aid is limited. You cannot get a federal student loan and do not qualify for a Pell Grant. Once released, even on parole, more options become available.
Drug cases seem to be the main problem. Those convicted for possession or sale of drugs while in school or receiving federal student aid are excluded. This applies whether a felony or misdemeanor offense.
If you are convicted of the same crimes after submitting FAFSA, you will lose eligibility. You will also be required to refund all monies advanced.
Sex offenders confined to treatment centers have also been disqualified from Pell Grants.
If you do qualify for an expungement of your crimes, be sure to take advantage. Once your records are expunged, you are not required to divulge criminal history when applying for FAFSA. This will make securing aid easier.
Does FAFSA Run Background Checks?
It is believed that FAFSA does not carry out background checks. They rely on applicants to answer questions on the form honestly. And there are questions on criminal history.
The majority of colleges do however conduct background checks. They factor in criminal past when making admission decisions. They may even request applicants to order the background check and submit the report.
Their biggest concerns seem to be those with violent histories and sex offenders. Sex offenders are typically not allowed on campus grounds without prior approval. This is a common requirement for those on the sex offender registry.
So while felons may qualify for FAFSA, they may face bigger barriers when applying to schools. It is vital to do the research and find a college or school that will accept you. If it does participate in federal aid programs, then you can fill the FAFSA form.
For those excluded from federal student aid, all hope is not lost. Check on your state and school financial aid programs and scholarships. You can likely access some help there.
Those with drug convictions that complete a drug rehab program may get their suspensions lifted. Seek advice from your parole officer to find an acceptable program.
Pursuing higher education is a good way to improve career prospects. With time, this can lead to better financial standing. It can also improve your reputation as academic achievements are admirable.
Seek the support and assistance of your family and friends. They can help you identify options and provide the boost you need to work on improving your life.