This report reviews findings from a first-of-its-kind survey conducted by the Center for Community Alternatives in collaboration with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) that explores the use of criminal history screening in college admissions procedures. A 59-question survey was administered electronically between September 30 and October 29, 2009 through AACRAO’s network of 3,248 member institutions in the United States. In all, 273 institutions responded to the survey. The survey helped inform the recommendations contained in this report.
A majority (66%) of the responding colleges collect criminal justice information, although not all of them consider it in their admissions process. Private schools and four-year schools are more likely to collect and use such information than their public and two-year counterparts. A sizable minority (38%) of the responding schools does not collect or use criminal justice information and those schools do not report that their campuses are less safe as a result.
Self-disclosure through the college application or in some cases the Common Application is the most typical way that colleges and universities collect the information. A small minority of schools conduct criminal background checks on some applicants, usually through contracting with a private company.
Most schools that collect and use criminal justice information have adopted additional steps in their admissions decision process, the most common of which is consulting with academic deans and campus security personnel. Special requirements such as submitting a letter of explanation or a letter from a corrections official and completing probation or parole are common.
Less than half of the schools that collect and use criminal justice information have written policies in place, and only 40 percent train staff on how to interpret such information.
A broad array of convictions are viewed as negative factors in the context of admissions decision-making, including drug and alcohol convictions, misdemeanor convictions, and youthful offender adjudications. If it is discovered that an applicant has failed to disclose a criminal record there is an increased likelihood that the applicant will be denied admission or have their admission offer rescinded.
A slight majority of schools that collect information provides support or supervision for admitted students who have criminal records,