Criminal and disciplinary history in college admissions: policies, questions, and best practices

November 26, 2018
  • AACRAO News
  • Disciplinary Notations
  • Meetings, Workshops, and Trainings
  • SEM Conference
  • Ban the Box
  • work group

The removal of questions about criminal histories from the college admissions application is a topic of growing interest on not only the institutional level but also among state and federal legislators. Maryland, Louisiana, and Washington state have approved legislation that bans public colleges and universities from requesting criminal histories on the admissions application.

On the federal level, U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Beyond the Box Higher Education Act (S. 3435) to codify the Obama Administration’s 2016 “Beyond the Box” Guidance, which provided recommendations for institutions to remove criminal history questions from their applications.

Most recently, the Common App announced plans in August to remove the question from the common part of its application.

AACRAO forms work group
This issue, as well as conversations about using the disciplinary notations on transcripts in the admissions process has a direct impact on AACRAO members. In response, the association assembled a work group to develop guidance concerning the use of student criminal history in the college admission process and to generate guiding principles for the development of institutional policy regarding the use of criminal history questions in admissions and the receipt of transcripts with disciplinary notations.

The Criminal History and College Admission Work Group convened at AACRAO SEM 2018 to begin their work on this important topic and held a listening session to solicit feedback and comments from members. Attendees engaged in a lively discussion, posing challenging questions about how the group aims to tackle this complex issue. Among those questions included:

  • Does the work group intend to make a formal recommendation of best practice on the removal of questions about criminal histories from the college admissions application?
  • How will the group distinguish between disciplinary actions and criminal actions?
  • Will the group address K-12-related disciplinary or criminal issues? Should admissions professionals solicit that information as part of the admissions process?
  • Will the group discuss differentiating questions for different application levels (e.g. common, transfer, graduate admissions applications, etc.)
  • How do these criminal justice involvement questions connect with our institutional missions?
  • Will the group make a recommendation for limiting the time frame for considering a criminal history in the context of rehabilitation?
  • Will the final report include data on whether campus criminal activity increased in states that have banned criminal history questions on admissions applications?
  • How does crime relate to campus climate?
  • Will the group develop best practices for open enrollment institutions? Online programs?

Download the session handout here.

The work group intends to incorporate these and other issues as they move forward to develop guidance and best practices. Over the last several months, the work group held listening sessions at the Texas, Illinois, and Louisiana ACRAO regional conferences, as well as the Maryland Community College Chief Student Affairs Officers meeting; and plans to host another listening session at the Chesapeake and Potomac Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers winter meeting at Morgan State University on December 10, 2018 and at the AACRAO Annual Meeting in Los Angeles on March 21 - April 3, 2019.

Feedback encouraged
The work group encourages AACRAO members to provide additional feedback on other areas of concern, as well as to share examples of established institutional policies that consider criminal history questions in admissions and the receipt of transcripts with disciplinary notations.

If your institution would be willing to share its written policies on these or related issues, please contact William Gil at Or sign up to receive email updates on this topic.