On September 14, the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York (SUNY), the nation’s largest comprehensive university system, voted to ban the box in its admissions process. It is the first university system in the country to reverse its decision to engage in criminal history screening and remove the question from its admissions application.
The resolution laying out the policy change references the advocacy of the Education From the Inside Out (EIO) Coalition, including a 2015 case study of SUNY conducted by the Center for Community Alternatives, “Boxed Out: Criminal History Screening and College Application Attrition.” That study found that about two-thirds of the nearly 3,000 SUNY applicants who disclose a felony conviction each year do not complete the application process (compared to only 21 percent of the overall pool of applicants) and thus are never considered for admission. It concluded that this is the result of the daunting – and sometimes impossible – supplemental process triggered by that disclosure as well as the stigmatizing nature of the inquiry itself.
The New York Times has published an editorial about the recently issued report of the Center for Community Alternatives on the deterrent effect of questions about criminal records on applications for admission to the State University of New York. (See the piece about the report “Boxed Out: Criminal History Screening and College Attrition” by CCA Director Alan Rosenthal published in this space 10 days ago.) The editorial notes that the 24 campuses of the CUNY system do not include “the box” asking about criminal record on their application forms and have reported no safety issues as a result. Perhaps this will be one of those rare cases where effective public advocacy highlighted in editorial pages will actually have a concrete result.
Last week the Center for Community Alternatives in cooperation with the Education from the Inside Out Coalition released Boxed Out: Criminal History Screening and College Application Attrition. With this new study and report we build upon our 2010 study, The Use of Criminal History Records in College Admissions Reconsidered. The Reconsidered study showed that a growing number of colleges and universities are asking about criminal history information during the application process: two-thirds of the colleges and universities we surveyed reported that they do so. Yet, as we discussed in the Reconsidered study, there is no empirical evidence to indicate that criminal history screening makes college campuses any safer.