Pennsylvania legislature would bar public colleges and universities from asking for most details of an applicant’s criminal record in the college application process. The bipartisan bill was introduced on Wednesday in Harrisburg and it was written by Reps. Jason Ortitay (R-Washington/Allegheny) and Morgan Cephas (D-Philadelphia).
The bill belongs to the nationwide movement to “ban the box”. The initiative seeks to ban asking applicants for jobs and colleges about their criminal histories.
It would apply to about 94,000 students among the 14 state-owned universities, which will soon be consolidated into 10, in Pennsylvania. Temple, Pennsylvania State, Pittsburgh, and Lincoln universities, as well as community and technical colleges, are included.
A report by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers found that information about criminal records is required when applying for 70 percent of four-year colleges. The report stated there is no statistically significant difference in the crime rates between campuses that do and do not ask about criminal records, according to a 2007 study.
According to the lawmakers, the bill’s main purpose is to facilitate procedures for those people who are trying to improve their lives.
Criminal records do not help
Ortitay said the ban to ask for criminal records takes priority on opportunities rather than building obstacles. “We need to be creating opportunities for college admission instead of erecting barriers,” he wrote on his website. “I do recognize that some violent crimes should be disclosed, and colleges should be able to institute safeguards that will allow students to get a degree and protect public safety at the same time. This legislation strikes that balance.”
However, under the new legislation, colleges would still be able to inquire about violent offenses, including murder, stalking, sexual assault, and related offenses. Also, colleges would be able to investigate criminal history after a student has already been accepted and offer counseling and services. Universities would then be able to make their own individual decisions about whether to limit the student’s participation in campus life.