Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Moving Past Checking the Box

Inside Higher Ed
By Scott Jaschik
May 9, 2016

The U.S. Education Department will today join groups that have been urging colleges that ask applicants about criminal justice and other disciplinary records to reconsider whether the questions are necessary and, if they are, whether they are being asked in ways that are unfair.

The department is releasing a report, "Beyond the Box," highlighting evidence that asking such questions can depress applications from those who had encounters with the criminal justice system as youth that may result from bias in the criminal justice system against young black males, or that may reflect behavior students have long outgrown.

The report does not say colleges that ask these questions are engaged in illegal discrimination, but it does note that the U.S. Departments of Labor and Housing and Urban Development, in the contexts of criminal background questions on job or housing application forms, have raised questions about the legality of broad questions that are used to reject people without attention to whether a specific individual poses a threat today.

"Colleges and universities using disciplinary history as admissions criteria should consider how to design admissions policies that do not have the unjustified effect of discriminating against individuals on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion and disability," says the report. "An estimated three out of four colleges and universities collect high school disciplinary information, and 89 percent of those institutions use the information to make admissions decisions."

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