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Avoid discrimination based on criminal backgrounds

Debate has arisen recently as colleges and universities across the country are putting more emphasis on a student’s criminal past when considering their admission.

This was reflected by a panel of experts at the National Association of College and University Attorneys when they met in North Carolina last week.

While campus security is certainly important, it is equally crucial to avoid discriminating against college applicants who have made poor choices but have earned a second chance by meeting other admissions standards.

A survey by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) found that private and four-year institutions were more likely than two-year and public institutions to conduct a criminal screening, and that 66 percent of all institutions surveyed collect criminal information about students.

Criminal background checks, although not an automatic disqualifier for admission, can present the illusion that college admission and its potential for class mobility are out of reach.

Of the students who raised flags and were asked to submit to a $20 criminal background check at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, half of them removed themselves from the admissions process, according to a report in Inside Higher Education.

Those with a criminal past may have made one small error in judgment, or a lifestyle out of victimizing others, but they’re not the same.

“We haven’t mastered the science of human behavior,” said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the AACRAO to Inside Higher Education. It would be “active discrimination” to enact policies that bar applicants with criminal records from admission, and impossible to determine which students with records would recidivate and which ones wouldn’t.”

Beyond other measures to secure a campus, the benefit of the doubt should be given to those with a criminal background if they meet all the other stringent requirements for college admission, unless one has proven themselves to be an assured danger to others.

The rehabilitation of those who have committed criminal acts should come with the hope that a brighter future is possible within the confines of the law.

Convicted criminals may already be disqualified from a large number of occupations and opportunities, and if not careful, college admissions officers may close yet another door.

The possibility of class mobility must remain strong for those who are trying to rectify their lives, and colleges must act with great caution when conducting criminal background checks.