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‘Ban the Box’ at College – Helpful or Hurtful?

Schools have a priority to keep campuses safe. With this priority may come the expense of certain groups of students educational opportunities.

“Ban the Box” is now gaining use in colleges and universities around the country. Colleges use this with the aim of protecting students – by asking prospective students about their criminal history, and in turn taking steps to keep everyone safe.

Colleges are approaching this in different ways:

  • By routinely asking an optional criminal-background question
  • By asking them based on the state in which they are located
  • By using the ‘Common App’ to streamline the admissions process.

This year Common App submitted approximately 4 million student applications and asked the criminal background question “Have you ever been adjudicated guilty or convicted of a misdemeanor, felony, or other crime? Note that you are not required to answer “yes” to this question, or provide an explanation, if the criminal adjudication or conviction has been expunged, sealed, annulled, pardoned, destroyed, erased, impounded, or otherwise required by law or ordered by a court to be confidential.” The question can be polarizing and can complicate an already intimidating process. Approximately 35% of respondents have denied admission or enrollment to individuals due to criminal history.

Also, Common App’s popularity is growing with an estimated 700 out of 3,000 colleges and universities expecting to use the service next year. The question will effect even more students in the near future. The criminal-history inquiries have been on the Common App forms for 10 years, however,  Common App reviews all questions on an annual basis.

Some Colleges and Universities still feel a need to ask these questions to better understand the background of the students. And in some instances it is not a choice, but a requirement by state law.

“In Massachusetts, if the Common App removed that question,” Kelly Walter, Boston University’s Associate Vice President and Executive Director of Admissions,  said, “we would still be required by law, as an institution that is located in this state, to ask a question about students having been convicted of a felony, a misdemeanor that resulted in sentencing, or a misdemeanor in the last five years.”

Another issue educational institutions have is knowing how to evaluate the information once they receive it.

  • Of 273 institutions examined, 66 percent collect criminal history information.
  • Of this, Only 40% train staff to interpret the data
  • Over 50% have no written policy regarding the admission of applicants with a criminal history

While gathering background information about future students is vital to admissions, the criminal history question can have negative effects and may be more hurtful than helpful. A group of institutions along with other advocacy organizations want to see the practice end altogether. They have drafted a bill, which is currently in committee, to prohibit criminal-history questions on college applications.

Ban the Box brings into question the conflict between knowing the criminal background of students with the purpose of keeping campuses safe, and not putting up obstacles when people try to enhance their levels of education – instead to support this.

If you have questions about this topic, contact JD Palatine – the Risk Mitigation Specialists.

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