- The U.S. Department of Education is urging colleges to stop asking applicants about whether they have criminal histories, arguing that little research links campus crimes to students with criminal records.
- The recommendation is part of a report the department released last week giving colleges guidance about how they can support students who were formerly incarcerated.
- Other key suggestions include sharing information about educational programs with people who are incarcerated before they are released and training college admissions staff members about the disproportionate impact that imprisonment has had on people of color.
The movement to stop asking applicants about their criminal histories — called banning the box — has been gaining traction in higher education.
The Common App, which provides a single form allowing students to apply to any of its 1,000-plus member colleges, removed a question about criminal history in the shared portion of its application starting in 2019. However, member colleges can still ask prospective students about their criminal histories in their application supplements.
If colleges do ask students whether they have criminal histories, they should limit themselves to asking only about felony convictions — not arrests, the Education Department suggested They should also limit questions to offenses that occurred after applicants were ages 20 and older and to those that happened within the last five years.
“ED calls upon institutions across the country to re-examine their admissions and student service policies and holistically determine how they can better serve and support current and formerly incarcerated students,” the department said in an April 28 blog post.