Common App announces decision to remove criminal history question

The Common Application, a form used by more than 1 million students each year to apply to college, will no longer ask prospective undergraduates about their criminal history, reports Inside Higher Ed. Proponents of the change called it a significant step forward in broadening access for students who wish to pursue higher education but would be hampered—or deterred by the prospect of revealing—a past misdemeanor or felony.

Creating opportunity for underrepresented groups, facilitating re-entry

The Atlantic notes that the question’s removal “may be the biggest help to low-income students of color, who are disproportionately likely to have been convicted of a crime.” Critics of asking students about criminal records note both the danger of perpetuating racial biases and of blocking the path to degree completion for underserved populations. For people returning to society post-incarceration, “there’s growing…consensus that education is the key to successful re-entry,” Tiffany Jones, director of higher education policy at Education Trust, told The Atlantic.

Applicants still likely to face similar inquiries

The decision to remove the criminal history question—a change slated to appear on the 2019-2020 application—runs counter to the preferences of many Common App members, most of whom indicated via survey that they “would prefer to keep the question on the ‘common’ portion of the application.” Many of those hoping to retain the question said that colleges need to know about a student’s criminal history in order to help them adjust to the school and provide adequate support.

Colleges and universities that use the Common App will still be able to request information about an applicant’s criminal history via application supplements. Students also may continue to encounter similar questions as they apply for Pell grants and other federal student aid.

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