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U.S. Department of Education Encourages Colleges Not to Ask About Disciplinary Records on Applications

U.S. Department of Education Encourages Colleges Not to Ask About Disciplinary Records on Applications

Today, the U.S. Department of Education will meet with several groups who are working to convince colleges to put less emphasis on questions on applications that ask prospective students about their respective criminal history and other disciplinary records.

According to Inside Higher Ed, the meetings are ahead of a report the Department will release called “Beyond the Box.” Inside Higher Ed received a copy of the report in advance to its release later today.

The report highlights "evidence that asking such questions can depress applications from those who had encounters with the criminal justice system as youth that may result from bias in the criminal justice system against young black males, or that may reflect behavior students have long outgrown,” Inside Higher Ed said.

The Department says that as it stands, three out of four colleges require disciplinary records from students during the application process. 89 percent use this information to make admissions decisions.

While the report notes that higher education institutions do not want to admit students who pose a threat to the campus, it says that institutions still must work towards finding a way to not make blanket assumptions when students “check the box” to indicate criminal history.

The report contains a number of recommendations by the Department for avoiding discrimination and increasing opportunity throughout the application process.

Examples include featuring “narrowly focused” questions on applications, always providing students with a criminal background a chance to explain the circumstances, and that admissions personnel are adequately "trained to analyze such information.”

When Inside Higher Ed surveyed admissions deans in an annual survey how they felt about what policy is most desirable for applicant disciplinary records, 68 percent of deans from private institutions and 43 percent from public ones said they believe “institutions should ask all applicants to report all disciplinary or legal infractions.”

Such survey results reveal a long road ahead of the Department’s efforts, but the Department has made its commitment to helping disadvantaged youth known.

Last week, the Department released grants and tools for school systems to help incarcerated youth to get back on track.

The Department of Education announced it will be providing Portland (Oregon) Community College, Saint Paul (Minnesota) Public Schools, Shelby County (Tennessee) Board of Education and the School District of Philadelphia with a combined total of $5.7 million in grants to help improve outcomes for students in the area with a past in the criminal justice system.

The effort was in sync with the Obama Administration’s declared National Reentry Week.

Read the full story.

Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor


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