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Colleges drop criminal queries from admissions apps

Three New York schools have eliminated or altered questions pertaining to applicants’ criminal histories
University Business, December 2014
Colleges and universities balance questions of safety and discrimination when asking about criminal histories on applications.
Colleges and universities balance questions of safety and discrimination when asking about criminal histories on applications.

In an era where many campus security efforts are being amplified, some schools are relaxing certain policies around prospective students’ criminal backgrounds.

In New York, Dowling College, St. John’s University and Five Towns College have either changed or completely eliminated questions pertaining to applicants’ criminal histories, according to a recent New York Times article and a St. John’s statement.

Another press statement explains how New York’s State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman reviewed the state’s colleges and universities after an advocacy group, Center for Community Alternatives, felt these questions could lead to unintended discrimination.

So far, only three colleges have contended with Schneiderman’s request to rid such questions from student applications, with St. John’s editing its criminal-query language instead of deleting it. Applications that once asked if an applicant was ever “arrested or detained by law enforcement” now ask about having been convicted of a crime or having an arrest pending adjudication.

Could changes like this become a national trend?

“There is an increased expectation that universities, parents and politicians must ensure a safe campus,” says David Perry, president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. “Asking the right questions creates opportunity for possible problems to be addressed early on. It also allows admissions committees to make sure they are letting the right people on campus.”

As for what type of criminal query (or lack thereof) a university has for its application process, Perry says schools must be in line with campus safety procedures already in place. When there’s proper documentation of previous incidents, it’s easier to, if needed, discipline students to the full extent of campus policy.

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