The Obama administration has ordered the nation’s colleges and universities to stop asking applicants about criminal and school disciplinary history because it discriminates against minorities. Institutions are also being asked to offer those with criminal records special support services such as counseling, mentoring and legal aid once enrolled. The government’s official term for these perspective students is “justice-involved individuals” and the new directive aims to remove barriers to higher education for the overwhelmingly minority population that’s had encounters with the law or disciplinary issues through high school.
Instructions are outlined in a cumbersome document issued by the US Department of Education (ED) this month. It says that “data show plainly that people of color are more likely to come in contact with the justice system due, in part, to punitive school disciplinary policies that disproportionately impact certain student groups and racial profiling.” Because education can be a powerful pathway to transition out of prison and into the workforce, it’s critical to ensure that admissions practices don’t disproportionately disadvantage justice involved individuals, the directive states. Colleges and universities should also refrain from inquiring about a student’s school disciplinary history—including past academic dishonesty—because that too discriminates against minorities. Civil rights data compiled by ED show “black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than white students and often for the same types of infractions.”
Therefore colleges and universities should consider designing admissions policies that don’t include disciplinary history so they don’t have the “unjustified effect of discriminating against individuals on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion and disability,” the new ED guidelines state. Three out of four colleges and universities collect high school disciplinary information and 89% of those institutions use the information to make admissions decisions, according to the order.
© 2016 Judicial Watch