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 Criminal History & College Admissions

The Center for Community Alternatives (CCA) has long had a Reentry Clinic which assists people with criminal histories in overcoming many of the barriers they face because of their past convictions. Many of our Reentry Clinic clients have applied to college, and over the years they have shared with us the increasing array of barriers they face to admission because of their criminal records. In fact, one local community college had an outright bar to admission, informing potential applicants with past felony convictions that they "need not apply."

Our clients' experiences and difficulties compelled us to explore this problem further. In 2010, CCA partnered with the Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) to survey collegiate admissions officers about their policies and practices with regard to applicants who have past criminal justice involvement. This partnership led to CCA's ground‐breaking report, "The Use of Criminal History Records in College Admissions Reconsidered," which not only identifies the growing problem of colleges screening applicants for past criminal justice involvement, but also discusses much needed policy changes.

Our journey did not end with this report. Since issuing it, we have received countless calls from defense attorneys whose clients are either enrolled in college or are college‐bound and are facing criminal charges. They want to know what strategies they can use to ensure that their clients can still pursue their dreams of achieving a college degree. We also frequently receive telephone calls from attorneys whose former clients have called to ask about how their past conviction will affect their ability to get accepted into a college, or who are facing questions on college applications that seem to require the disclosure of sealed or confidential information.

Over the past two years, these telephone calls have led us to develop a number of strategies that defense attorneys can utilize to protect their clients' dreams of graduating from college. Thanks to a grant from the New York Bar Foundation, we now have the opportunity to put these strategies into writing in "A Guide for Attorneys Representing College Applicants and Students During and After Criminal Proceedings".

Articles & Resources

In this section of Justice Strategies web pages we will continue to add references which may be of interest and use to those involved in the continued advocacy for revisiting the use of criminal history records in college admissions.

The Use of Criminal History Records in College Admissions Reconsidered, Center for Community Alternatives, Inc., November 2010.

A Guide for Attorneys Representing College Applicants and Students During and After Criminal Proceedings, Center for Community Alternatives, Inc., January 2013.

"The Bias of Background Checks", Marsha Weissman, Inside Higher Ed, January 20, 2011.

"Closing the Doors to Higher Education: Another Collateral Consequence of a Criminal Conviction", Center for Community Alternatives, Inc./Justice Strategies, National H.I.R.E. Network, April 2008.

Unchaining Civil Rights
This website addresses the issue areas of Education, Employment, Enfranchisement and Equality.

Passport to the Future, Accessing Higher Education in an Era of Mass Incarceration
This website is built around the video, Passport To The Future, which was produced by Benay Rubenstein, Founder of College Initiative and 2011 Soros Justice Fellow and Jeremy Robins, filmmaker. The Center for Community Alternatives served as the host organization for Ms. Rubenstein's work through the Open Society Foundations.

Thinking Outside the Cell - portion of video with Alan Rosenthal, Criminal History Records in College Admissions.

Represent: The Voice of Youth in Foster Care. The first article, "From Inmate to College Student" is a poignant story of a young man's journey from youth to adulthood, school to prison to college. The companion article, "If you have a Criminal Record...", describes the issues in CCA's study of college admissions practices.