Academic journal article Journal of Correctional Education

College Admission Policies for Ex-Offender Students: A Literature Review

Academic journal article Journal of Correctional Education

College Admission Policies for Ex-Offender Students: A Literature Review

Article excerpt

The Special Admission Process: Purpose and Trends

The purpose of the special admission process, often called the felony review process, is to explore a prospective student's criminal history to predict future misconduct. The way the special admission process is administered is largely at the discretion of administrators at each institution of higher education (IHE), but both Dickerson (2008, 2010) and Langhauser (2001) have described models of practice. Current trends call for a committee of administrators, including those from student conduct, admissions, law enforcement, counseling, legal counsel, and the faculty, to review application materials of those students who admit past convictions on applications. The committee evaluates the information on the seriousness or severity of harm caused, the date and nature of the crime, patterns of misconduct, punishment served, and evidence of rehabilitation and responsibility acceptance. Applicants may be denied admission if their history shows an ongoing propensity for violence or misconduct (Dickerson, 2008, 2010; Langhauser, 2001).

In perhaps the first study of felony review rejection rates, researchers at the Center for Community Alternatives (CCA) studied the felony review process of the State University of New York (SUNY) system, of which all 64 institutions require the disclosure of criminal history information. They estimated that every year, nearly 3,000 applicants disclose felony convictions, but nearly two-thirds drop out before completing the admission process. For the applicants who persist, admission rejection rates based on criminal history, among the 20 SUNY colleges in the study sample, ranged widely from 0% to 83.1%, with 13 having rejection rates under 10%. In other words, most of these IHEs rejected less than 10% of the applicants with prior felony convictions (Rosenthal, NaPier, Warth & Weissman, 2015).

In 2009, the CCA and the American Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers reported on the trends of 273 IHEs and found that 66% collected criminal history information during the admission process by requiring self-disclosure or by conducting background checks (Weissman, Rosenthal, Warth, Wolf & Messina-Yauchzy, 2010). More recently, a new study reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education found that 70% of 1,400 undergraduate institutions collected criminal history information during the admission process (Mangan, 2015). With IHEs increasingly collecting criminal histories, "the final, and ultimate, policy question is whether background checks actually will enhance campus safety' (Dickerson, 2010, p. 28). Thus, the following sections outline the available evidence documenting the effectiveness of special admission policies.

Evidence of Effectiveness

The use of criminal history information "to screen prospective college applicants grows out of legitimate concerns for public safety,' and some authors advocated for at least some screening measures in the admission process (Weissman et al., 2010, p. 3; see also Dickerson, 2010; Runyan, Pierce, Shankar & Bangdiwala, 2013). The following study's findings supported the use of collecting criminal history information.

Runyan et al. (2013) studied students at one university to determine if prior crimes could predict future campus misconduct. The participating students admitted their criminal convictions on admission applications, or when surveyed, disclosed having university disciplinary records and/or having had committed crimes or behaviors that would have constituted conviction or disciplinary action. The authors discovered, "students who engage in criminal activity before college, whether they admit it on their applications or not, are more likely than other students to engage in college misconduct" (Runyan et al., 2013, p. 4). This indicated that a prospective student's criminal history could be useful to student affairs administrators to gage future campus misconduct; however, a preponderance of research shows the process is not as effective as intended. …

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