Many Universities Still Ask Student Applicants about Criminal History despite Growth of Ban the Box Movement

Ban the Box

Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

Despite the rapid growth of “Ban the Box” laws in America that remove questions about criminal history from job applications to help ex-offenders find work, many U.S. universities continue to ask student applicants about their criminal history as “a necessary security precaution,” according to a report from The Chicago Tribune.

The Chicago Tribune reported in November 2018 that “the majority of American universities ask prospective students to disclose criminal backgrounds on applications. That’s the case in Illinois, where most major schools request criminal histories and say they have no plans to change course.”

The Tribune reported that schools in Illinois that ask some form of the criminal history question to student applicants include Southern Illinois University, Northern Illinois University, Northwestern, University of Illinois, Illinois State, Eastern Illinois, Western Illinois, Governors State, DePaul, and Columbia College Chicago.

A 2017 policy brief from the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C. stated that national surveys in 2009, 2010, and 2014 “indicate that 60 to 80 percent of private institutions and 55 percent of public institutions require undergraduate applicants to answer criminal history questions as part of the admissions process.”

Yet Ban the Box reform is growing in the academic sector. In August 2018, officials from the Common Application that is accepted by more than 800 schools – including 29 in Illinois – announced they would stop collecting criminal history information on the Common App and School Report starting August 1, 2019.

The announcement continued: “However, The Common Application’s member institutions will continue to be able to collect criminal history information on their individual member screens if they so choose. The student disciplinary history question will remain on the ‘common’ portion of the application.”

The non-profit membership organization Common Application consulted with its membership about Ban the Box. The change to the criminal history question was made to provide members with the greatest flexibility to determine how best to comply with their local requirements and institutional policies.

The criminal history question can even discourage students from applying to schools. A 2015 study from the Center for Community Alternatives found that more than 62 percent of the nearly 3,000 annual applicants to State University of New York (SUNY) that disclosed criminal histories never completed the application.

In September 2016, ESR News reported that SUNY voted to pass a Ban the Box resolution to adopt a policy that took effect in July 2017 where students admitted to a SUNY college or university are required to disclose criminal histories only if they decide to attend but the initial application no longer asks for this disclosure.

“Ban the Box” is a nationwide movement that seeks to advance job opportunities for ex-offenders with prior criminal convictions by delaying the criminal history question until later in the hiring process. As of November 2018, more than 150 cities and counties as well as 33 states have passed Ban the Box laws.

In July 2014, ESR News reported that Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed HB 5701 (Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act) to help ex-offenders find work in the private sector by delaying criminal background checks until after they are deemed qualified for a job. The law took effect January 1, 2015.

The fact that employers must comply with a myriad of overlapping local and statewide Ban the Box laws in the United States is one of the “ESR Top Ten Background Check Trends” for 2018 as selected by leading global background check provider Employment Screening Resources® (ESR).

ESR Ban the Box Resource Page

Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) offers employers a Ban the Box Resource Page the contains complimentary whitepapers, infographics, and an interactive map updated with the latest Ban the Box laws. The Ban the Box Resource Page is at www.esrcheck.com/Legislative-Compliance/Ban-the-Box/.

NOTE: Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) does not provide or offer legal services or legal advice of any kind or nature. Any information on this website is for educational purposes only.

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