Obama moves to open colleges to ex-convicts

Obama moves to open colleges to ex-convicts
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The Obama administration is trying to make it easier for ex-convicts to go to college.

The U.S. Department of Education released a resource guide Monday to give colleges and universities alternatives to asking for criminal history on college applications, a question that has been shown to prevent an estimated 70 million citizens from pursing higher education.

“We believe in second chances and we believe in fairness,” Secretary of Education John King, Jr. said in a statement. “The college admissions process shouldn’t serve as a roadblock to opportunity, but should serve as a gateway to unlocking untapped potential of students.”


King made Monday’s announcement while visiting UCLA, a member of the University of California system, which does not inquire about criminal history on its admissions applications.

The resource guide, “Beyond the Box: Increasing Access to Higher Education for Justice-Involved Individuals,” recommends colleges and universities wait until after an admission decision has been made to ask about an applicant’s criminal record.

Schools are also advised to tell students as early as possible in the application process how to respond to the question about their criminal past and narrow questions to avoid overly broad requests.

In addition to giving all prospective students the opportunity to explain their criminal records, the administration is recommending that schools provide admissions personnel and counselors with training on how to effectively use criminal history information.

“Too many Americans are denied opportunities to lead fulfilling and productive lives because of a past arrest or conviction — including opportunities to access a quality education," Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement. “Expanding access to higher education for justice-involved individuals can help them step out of the shadow of their pasts and embark on the path to a brighter future.” 

The Education Department, which said campus safety is paramount in this process, will work with the Justice Department to help schools ensure a safe learning environment while also opening educational opportunities to ex-convicts.

The resource guide includes recommendations on how institutions might consider campus safety and applicants’ criminal justice history without unduly discouraging or rejecting otherwise-qualified candidates.