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Legislators Introduce ‘Beyond the Box for Higher Education Act’

September 14, 2018, 9:27 AM HST
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U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced on Sept. 13, 2018, the Beyond the Box for Higher Education Act, new legislation that would encourage colleges and universities to remove criminal and juvenile justice questions from their admissions applications and give more Americans a chance to earn a higher education.

“Everyone deserves a fair chance to go to college and succeed,” Sen. Schatz said. “This bill is about tearing down the barriers that keep people from pursuing a better life through higher education.”

Today, most colleges and universities ask criminal justice, juvenile justice, and/or school disciplinary questions in their admissions processes. Earlier this year, Sen. Schatz led letters to the “Big Six” higher education associations and The Common Application asking them to remove criminal history questions from their admissions processes. As a result, the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the American Association of Community Colleges urged their members to remove these questions. And recently, The Common Application decided to remove criminal history questions from their form starting in August 2019. The bill would assist colleges and universities as they change their policies by providing assistance in the form of guidance and training.

“Requiring prospective college students to answer application questions about old criminal or juvenile records is an unnecessary barrier to educational pursuits,” Sen. Durbin said. “We must allow formerly incarcerated individuals to rebuild and move forward with their lives, and a college education can be an important step in that journey. I’m proud to join Sens. Schatz and Booker on this bill and help clear this roadblock.”

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About 70 million Americans have some type of criminal record. That record, which shows up on all routine background checks, makes it more difficult for those individuals to go to college, find a good-paying job, and rebuild their lives. Studies have shown that application rejection rates for individuals with convictions can be as high as 12 to 13 percentage points more than for those without. And many with a criminal background fail to complete their application once they reach the criminal history question, knowing responding to the questions would greatly diminish their chance of admission.

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In addition to Schatz, Durbin, and Booker, original cosponsors of the legislation include U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.).

The Beyond the Box for Higher Education Act would:

1. Direct the Department of Education to provide guidance and recommendations for colleges and universities to:

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a. Determine whether criminal and juvenile justice questions are necessary in the initial application for admissions process;

b. Develop a process to determine in what situations criminal or juvenile justice information can be requested of students for non-admissions purposes, and provide a process for prospective students as well as training for staff on the use of such information; and

c. Offer recommendations for colleges and universities that decide to keep criminal and juvenile justice questions, such as delaying the request for such information to avoid a chilling effect, and making transparent, specific, and narrow inquiries that offer prospective students the opportunity to explain their involvement.

2. Direct the Department of Education to provide colleges and universities with the necessary training and technical assistance to meet the above recommendations.

a. The Department will also establish a resource center to serve as a repository for best practices as colleges and universities develop and implement new policies.

b. Remove the drug conviction question from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

“There are still far too many barriers to a high quality higher education, especially for students who have been impacted by the justice system. The Beyond the Box Act would reduce some of these unnecessary barriers, particularly for low-income students and students of color who are disproportionately impacted. We’re proud to stand with Sen. Schatz as we work toward a more equitable and just higher education for all students,” said Wil Del Pilar, Vice President of Higher Education at The Education Trust.

The Schatz legislation is supported by more than 20 organizations including The Education Trust, Institute for Higher Education Policy, National Association for College Admission Counseling, and NAACP.

For a PDF copy of the bill, click here.

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