Students applying to colleges know that they have to answer lots of questions on applications so the colleges can size you up to see if you fit the profile they’re looking for in their incoming class of freshmen or transfer students. Questions focus on academic records, parent education and employment, school and extracurricular activities, and legacies. At the end of most college applications, students are required to check 2 boxes that inquire about suspensions/expulsions and criminal records. If they check either of the boxes, students are required to write a short essay explaining the circumstances. Louisiana recently barred public colleges from asking about and making admissions decisions based on a student’s criminal past.
There is a growing movement supporting this ban because many students who have criminal records are not dangerous to others (petty theft) and were minors at the time of the incident. By making it difficult for these students to become productive members of society with a college degree, we may be forcing these young people into criminal activity as adults.
Students who check the box about a criminal past are often discriminated in the competitive application process. As a result, many students simply don’t apply to colleges and leave higher education out of their reach for future careers.
On the flipside, should colleges have the right to know about a prospective student’s criminal history? Let’s say the student was involved in violent behavior – or convicted of rape or other heinous activities. Withholding a student’s record of violence, drug abuse, or other activities might prove to be a mistake when colleges build incoming classes.
This is a sensitive issue. One on hand, teens make mistakes and should be given the opportunity to right their wrongs. On the other hand, colleges have the right to know about their students’ past activities (academic, extracurricular, and criminal) so they can make appropriate decisions.
Public colleges already give students the opportunity to explain the criminal record, but it appears that college admissions officers aren’t sympathetic to these types of lessons learned. One of my female clients was sexually assaulted by a teen boy. She punched him when he harassed her in school, and then she tried to scare him with her car as she drove past him in the school parking lot. She was suspended but the boy walked away with no record. Granted, this was not acceptable behavior but she was denied admission from several public colleges.
What are your thoughts about “banning the box”?