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West Virginia to Provide Free College for Passing Drug Test

A student takes a urine test to pass her drug test for free college in West Virginia

In a time when there is ample discussion about the high cost of college education and the potential for free post-secondary education, West Virginia is taking a unique approach by offering free in-state tuition for residents. While not the first state to make such strides, they are the first to require students to pass a drug test each semester to qualify.

Free Community College — With a Drug Test

As of July 1, students in West Virginia can enroll in a local community college in the state for free. The measure is similar to an estimated 19 other states that have introduced free college tuition programs in the past five years. Typically, requirements to be eligible include having a certain GPA. In West Virginia, the requirement is passing a drug test.

If you enroll in a community college and take and pass a drug test before the beginning of each semester, West Virginia will pay your tuition. West Virginia is currently the only state to have this type of requirement for free tuition.

Tackling Two Issues

West Virginia officials hope to tackle two separate issues that are heavily affecting the country. First, there is the rising cost of a college degree. The current student loan debt load in the U.S. is more than $1.6 million and affects more than 40 million people in the country. The burden of this debt impacts people’s ability to move forward in their lives, purchase homes or start families.

The second issue? The opioid crisis. The effects of the opioid epidemic have heavily impacted West Virginia. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there were 833 drug overdose deaths related to opioids in West Virginia in 2017. That’s more than double the rate in 2010 and three times higher than the national rate. The biggest increases in overdose deaths related to opioids involved synthetic opioids and fentanyl. There was also a significant increase in heroin-related deaths from 2014 to 2017.

The hope, according to the wording of the new law, is that the provision of free tuition for people in West Virginia will improve the well-being of people who live in the state and also increase economic prosperity. The law goes on to suggest that the more people that have access to a college education, the less will develop addictions to opioids. The bill describes increased access to education and better employment prospects as integral to reducing drug addiction.

What Drugs Will Be Included in the Screening?

Currently, the law doesn’t specifically name the drugs that will be screened for. However, a consultant who worked on the bill told a local newspaper that students will be tested for THC, opiates and certain prescription drugs, including hydrocodone and oxycodone. If a student has a prescription for a medication, they can receive an exemption.

The testing program is modeled after a program called WorkForce West Virginia, which provides job training and placement services.

Students will have to pass their drug tests within 60 days of the start of the semester to qualify for free tuition for the specific semester. Students have to cover the cost of the testing, and they have to do so only at authorized facilities. There is currently a negotiation going on that will allow students to receive the test for $34.

The novel move comes as many Democratic presidential hopefuls are making affordable college or college loan debt programs a key part of their platforms.

Sources

Picchi, Aimee. “In West Virginia, free college—after students pass a drug test.” CBS News, June 28, 2019. Accessed July 13, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “West Virginia Opioid Summary.” March 2019. Accessed July 13, 2019.

AP News. “Marijuana testing required for free community college.” June 14, 2019. Accessed July 13, 2019.

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