On August 7, 2018, the Common Application announced that it is dropping the criminal history question from its college application form starting with 2019-2020 applicants. Currently over 800 colleges and universities use the common application. The criminal history question first appeared on the common application in 2006. Individual colleges who are members of the Common Application will still be able to make inquiry on their own.
For the past decade, the Common Application has been under pressure from advocates, educators and the U.S. Education Department under the Obama administration to remove the criminal history question from its application form. The call to remove the criminal history question from college applications first came from the Center for Community Alternatives (CCA) in its 2010 publication, The Use of Criminal History Records in College Admissions Reconsidered. A second study with policy recommendation was published by CCA in collaboration with the Education from the Inside Out Coalition in 2015, Boxed Out: Criminal History Screening and College Application Attrition, and underscored the harm done by the use of the criminal history box on college applications.
As more colleges and universities have banned the box, the Common Application has been under growing pressure to abolish this discriminatory and counterproductive practice. Removing barriers to the admission of students with criminal history records to higher education is one way to improve public safety, combat mass incarceration, and make reentry meaningful.
In 2012 newly elected President of the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA), Seymour James, Jr., drew upon his 38 years of experience at the Legal Aid Society of New York City to establish a Special Committee on Reentry and appointed committee members who would spend the next three years researching and studying issues relating to reentry and reintegration.
The goal of this Special Committee was to develop a report and recommendations including a consideration of collateral consequences that can have an impact on reentry regarding education, housing employment, medical health, mental health and juveniles. The report identifies some of the best practices to ensure productive lives and minimize recidivism of formerly incarcerated adults and detained juveniles, and of adults and juveniles who can avoid convictions and delinquency findings through innovative diversion programs.
On January 29, 2016 the NYSBA House of Delegates adopted the report and recommendations of the Special Committee.
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.