SUNY bans the box on admissions application

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.

SUNY’s decision comes on the heels of a major announcement in May from the U.S. Department of Education encouraging colleges and universities to go “Beyond the Box” and eliminate barriers to admission for people with criminal history records.  That federal guidance also drew heavily on the work of the EIO Coalition, including CCA’s 2010 national study, “The Use of Criminal History Records in College Admissions Reconsidered.”  As the national movement grows, additional colleges and universities are likely to follow SUNY’s example.

This victory is also expected to increase momentum to pass the Fair Access to Education Act (S.00969/A.03363), currently in committee in both houses of the New York State Legislature.  The bill, drafted in part by leaders in the EIO Coalition, would build on SUNY’s commitment and also prohibit all private colleges and universities in the state from asking about criminal history records during the admissions process.

Read more about SUNY’s historic decision in The Atlantic and the New York Times.

Additional background and context is available in these CCRC posts:


This piece was co-authored by Alan Rosenthal, Advisor on Special Projects at the Center for Community Alternatives, and former Co-Director of Justice Strategies at the Center.

Emily NaPier

Emily NaPier is the Director of Justice Strategies at the Center for Community Alternatives.

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