Beginning in the 2019-2020 admissions cycle, the criminal history question will no longer be a part of the Common Application, the most widely used college application platform. This change marks a course reversal for Common App. since just last year the organization made a public announcement that the question would remain. The question, of course, has stirred quite a bit of controversy since it first appeared on the application in 2006. Its removal from the Common Application marks a major victory for the “Ban the Box” movement, a movement that has been gaining significant momentum in recent years as evidenced this past January when the Maryland Senate passed a bill that bars college admissions officials from asking applicants about arrests and convictions. So why the course reversal?
A Major Victory for the “Ban the Box” Movement
As reported by Alexander James for “The Washington Examiner” in a piece entitled “Common App will no longer ask students about criminal history,” “‘Member feedback shows there are strong and differing opinions regarding both keeping the question ‘common,’ and for leaving the decision on whether and how to ask the question up to individual members,’ the Common App’s statement said. ‘While a majority of survey respondents would prefer to keep the question on the ‘common’ portion of the application, we found variation in member preferences based on institution type and other factors. For example, the majority of public institution survey respondents preferred that the question be asked at the discretion of the member.'” It’s important to note, however, that the Common Application will still ask applicants about disciplinary infractions in high school. Get arrested for murder and there’s no need for an applicant to write about it on the Common Application. Cheat on a test and an applicant will have to tell all about it.
We’ve never been quite sure where we stand on this complex issue. On the one hand, we believe folks who’ve committed crimes and served their time should absolutely be entitled to redemption — which may include admission to a highly selective university in America. But on the other hand, college campuses should be safe for all and nobody should ever have to worry about their well-being. If these folks have committed dangerous crimes, maybe they shouldn’t be on college campuses. In any case, the Common Application has spoken — at least for now — and we offer our heartfelt congratulations to all the folks who’ve worked tirelessly for civil rights groups dedicated in their advocacy for ex-criminal offenders. This is a momentous victory for them so well done!