There is a piece in today’s “New York Times” by Stephanie Saul entitled “Colleges That Ask Applicants About Brushes With the Law Draw Scrutiny” that we figured we’d opine about. After all, that’s what we do on our college admissions blog. The piece focuses on how various universities — both highly selective ones and otherwise — ask students not only if they’ve ever been convicted of a crime but also if they’ve ever been arrested. Many argue (and we’d agree) that this unfairly discriminates against underprivileged and minority applicants, some of whom may have been arrested but were never charged with — or convicted of — a crime. Maybe they were completely and utterly innocent and the police realized as much…that’s why they released them. These applicants should not have to face such scrutiny in the admissions process, simply for being unjustly arrested.
As reported by Stephanie Saul in her piece, “Auburn, in Auburn, Ala., is one of 17 universities in the South that include broad questions on their admissions applications about any contact with the legal system or the police that applicants might have had — even an arrest, with no conviction — according to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, an advocacy group. The universities are now the focus of an inquiry by the organization, which says such questions unfairly penalize minorities, who tend to face arrest more frequently and, as a result, could face higher admissions hurdles. ‘The disparities and underrepresentation we see at schools is a concern, and this may indeed be one of the contributing factors,’ said Kristen Clarke, the group’s executive director, citing statistics showing low black enrollment at some of the colleges. At Auburn, for example, African-Americans make up 7 percent of the student body in a state where blacks total about 25 percent of the population.”
The Common Application doesn’t ask if an applicant has ever been arrested but it does ask if an applicant has ever been convicted of a crime. And if records were expunged, applicants do not need to answer “yes” that they’ve been convicted of a crime. We firmly believe this question should be the only criminal question that colleges should be able to ask. They should not be able to ask if a student has been arrested. In a time in which highly selective colleges are trying to encourage disadvantaged students to apply, why not ensure that the application doesn’t discourage just that? Hello!
Hello? Can you hear us? Yes, we’re citing Adele. Deal with it.