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50-State Comparison: State Financial Aid Barriers for Students Impacted by the Justice System (archive)

The eligibility rules of state financial aid programs vary widely by state and by program. This is also true of eligibility rules pertaining to students impacted by the justice system. This goal of this resource is to enable stakeholders to compare eligibility requirements pertaining to justice system impact across major aid programs and states.

This 50-State Comparison contains the 100 state financial aid grant programs found in the 50-State Comparison: Need- and Merit-Based Financial Aid. These programs represent the two largest programs in each state or jurisdiction.

New data pertaining to these programs’ eligibility requirements — specifically, written rules and agency practices that result in aid ineligibility for students impacted by the justice system — were collected for this resource. For historical context, this resource also identifies the year the policy was adopted.

Click on a question below to see data for all states. To view a specific state’s approach, go to the state profiles  page.

50-State Comparisons

  1. What restrictions exist for populations impacted by the justice system within the state’s two largest state aid programs?
  2. What year was the rule created?
  3. All data points

Key Takeaways

  • Seventeen states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico do not place restrictions on eligibility for students who are impacted by the justice system in either of their two largest financial aid grant programs.
  • Students who are impacted by the justice system are not eligible for at least 54 of the largest 100 state grant aid programs.
  • The eligibility rules of 19 state programs are tied to eligibility for Pell Grants, making students impacted by the justice system ineligible by default.

Data Definitions

Year Program Created: The year in which state legislators passed a law to create the program.

Year Eligibility Rule Created: The year in which state legislators or agency officials created an eligibility rule that affects system-impacted students.

System-Impacted Student: Four categories of conditions that affect aid eligibility (e.g., Incarceration, Criminal Convictions, Drug Convictions, None).

1. Incarceration: Students who are confined in a federal or state prison.

Rules sometimes further define incarceration, including any exceptions. Unless other restrictions apply, these students can regain aid access once released from prison.

2. Criminal Convictions: Students with criminal convictions.

These rules can impact students who are in prison, who are released from prison and who never served prison time. Rules define which types of convictions result in aid ineligibility. Felony convictions — of any type — most commonly result in aid ineligibility. Drug convictions would disqualify students for most of the programs with these rules. However, this category of rules is mutually exclusive from the category on drug convictions.

3. Drug Convictions: Students with specifically defined, drug-related convictions.

There are three subtypes of drug conviction rules:

  • Most states with drug conviction restrictions tie eligibility to federal aid eligibility. In these cases, if a student was convicted of a drug offense that disqualified them from federal aid, the student would also lose state aid access until federal aid eligibility was restored.
  • Some states establish their own rules about drug convictions independent of federal aid eligibility. These rules vary in the types and levels of drug conviction, as well as the conditions under which a student can or cannot regain aid eligibility following the drug conviction.
  • A minority of states requires aid recipients to refrain from using illegal drugs or alcohol in order to maintain their aid. In these states, students who are convicted of drug-related crimes may lose their state aid eligibility.

4. None: There are no known rules or practices that specifically prevent system-impacted students from accessing state aid.

Statute Citation: The citation for the eligibility rule in state laws.

Statute Text: The text of the statutory eligibility rule that affects system-impacted students.

Regulation Citation: The citation for the eligibility rule in state regulations or administrative codes.

Regulation Text: The text of the regulatory eligibility rule that affects system-impacted students.

Agency Practice Citation: The citation for the agency (i.e., state higher education department, financial aid agency) practice that results in system-impacted students being denied state aid.

Agency Practice Text: The text of an agency rule or a description of the practice employed by agency officials that results in system-impacted students being denied state aid.


Data for this 50-State Comparison come from a thorough review of written student eligibility requirements found in state statutes, regulations, administrative rules and higher education agency websites. News sources, research literature, policy reports and state higher education agency staff were also consulted. Historical statute information was obtained from online state law databases. Read more about methods here.

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Jan. 13, 2020

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