The Common App drops question about past convictions on college applications 

The Common App's change will help to low-income students of color, who are disproportionately likely to have been convicted of a crime.

The Common App
The Common App's change will help low-income students of color who are disproportionately likely to have been convicted of a crime. (Courtesy of Fotolia)

Every year, more than one million kids apply to colleges and universities around the world using The Common Application. Also known as the “Common App,” it’s a streamlined, single form that students can fill out to apply to any college that uses it.

Much like a job application, it asks for all sorts of pertinent information, but one thing it will no longer ask for is a students’ criminal history. The Atlantic is reporting that the nonprofit organization that runs the Common App announced this week that they are dropping the question from the application effective immediately.

The move will remove the option from all applications, making it optional for certain schools to ask for that information. The criminal history question will also be removed from the School Report. The change is also limited to the collection of criminal history information and will not include changes to any school disciplinary action.

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The move would open the door to prospective students who have a misdemeanor or felony and is also expected to benefit applicants who are low-income students of color, a demographic that is disproportionately represented in the criminal-justice system.

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In recent years, “ban the box” laws have been passed around the country to wipe the question off of employment applications, but this is the first wholesale move to occur in education. Criminal histories can reflect societal biases that put up barriers to opportunities including higher education. One in five Black men who belong to the lowest-income families in the U.S. is sent into a correctional facility on any given day, according to a March 2018 study by Stanford economist Raj Chetty and published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The Common App, however, will keep the question which asks whether an applicant has ever been disciplined by his or her high school, which is also more likely to be yes for students of color.

According to a September 2017 Brookings Institution report, a majority of American colleges and universities ask about previous convictions. Nearly 80 percent of private institutions and 55 percent of public ones ask the question about incarceration.