'Beyond the Box': U.S. Wants Colleges to Delay Conviction Questions

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on May 12, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

We're always worried about what can end up on our permanent record, and criminal conviction once doomed college and job applicants. But that could be slowly changing. Some states are encouraging employers who hire felons, and some schools are no longer including criminal conviction questions on their applications.

Now the Obama administration is asking colleges to put off asking applicants about their criminal records until schools have made their admissions decisions. So does this mean it will be easier to get into college with a criminal conviction on your record?

"Dear Colleague"

Education Secretary John B. King, Jr. sent a set of recommendations to universities and colleges in what's known as a "Dear Colleague" letter. Included was a guide, entitled "Beyond the Box: Increasing Access to Higher Education for Justice Involved Individuals," that urged colleges to delay questions about criminal records until after they make the decision on whether to admit the applicant.

But that decision may not always be up to individual schools. Over 500 colleges and universities use the Common Application, which allows applicants to fill out one form to be used for all of their applications. The Common Application still asks students whether they've been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor, but the company is considering revising or removing the question.

On the Record

King's letter noted that around 70 million Americans have some form of criminal record, and that "[y]oung people and adults that have been involved with the criminal justice system -- whether they have been arrested but not convicted, convicted but never incarcerated, or are formerly incarcerated -- continue to face significant hurdles in obtaining access to higher education or career training."

As such, the "Beyond the Box" guide urges schools to rethink their approach to criminal histories and give justice-involved students a second chance. Colleges may not disregard criminal records now, but hopefully they won't be make-or-break admissions decisions in the future.

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