Thanks to a push by the Obama administration, people with criminal records may soon have a better chance at obtaining a college degree. The administration is insisting universities re-evaluate how they use criminal record information in their admission process.
Schools that require applicants to reveal criminal records on the application discourage those who are very often academically sound and not a real threat to campus safety.
No one is saying criminal records don’t need to be disclosed, but they need to be delayed until the applicant knows there is a good chance they will be accepted into the institution. Otherwise, he or she might believe there is no chance and give up prematurely.
There is a difference between keeping a violent perpetrator off campus and closing the door to a kid who was caught smoking pot in high school.
Violent criminals should obviously undergo more scrutiny before being admitted, but perpetrators of lesser crimes do not deserve to be lumped with those that threaten campus safety.
Prison reform is a movement that is beginning to spread across the U.S., with many questioning the logic behind the obviously flawed system. The U.S. has “less than 5 percent of the world’s population,” according to the New York Times. “But it has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.”
Unlike other countries, crimes like drug use and writing a bad check can lead to immediate jail time. Choices that would lead to a slap on the wrist or a fine elsewhere incur criminal records on U.S. soil and haunt the perpetrator for the rest of his or her life.
It is nearly impossible to get a well-paid job without a college degree. Studies have shown that the number of people completing higher education is only increasing as they fight tooth and nail for the few open positions in the modern job market.
Unfortunately, in many universities across the country, the application process searches for not only minor offenses put also for violations as far back as the beginning of high school. If a girl is suspended for dress code in ninth grade she may find it difficult to get into college four years later thanks to the strict application process.
A study by the Center for Community Alternatives found two-thirds of those who begin applications for admission to The State University of New York never finished them if they had a criminal record. The same rate for those without a record was only 21 percent.
Despite claims that the process protects students, “research suggests that colleges that admit students with criminal histories are no less safe than others,” according to the New York Times.
The process doesn’t increase safety and instead limits the opportunities for a vast number of Americans.
If universities would simply delay the conviction question or make it explicitly clear how it intends to use the information in the evaluation process, more of the nearly 70 million Americans who have a criminal record may have a chance of obtaining a degree.
“Too many Americans are denied opportunities to lead fulfilling and productive lives because of a past arrest or conviction — including opportunities to access a quality education,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said in an interview with EAB.com.
“Expanding access to higher education for justice-involved individuals can help them step out of the shadow of their pasts and embark on the path to a brighter future.”
Breanne Williams is a junior majoring in mass communications.