Checking “Yes” on Felony Conviction Box on College Application and Attrition
Date:  03-05-2015

Study finds attrition rate higher for those who check “yes” than those who do not
Reentry Central is acutely aware that brilliant people are left hungering for higher education because a past criminal record, that might not even include a conviction, has shut them out of colleges and universities. (See: Reentry Central 9-23-14 Encouraging Higher Education for People with a Criminal History, 7-10-12 Reentrants Involved in Educational Programs Less Likely to Recidivate, 12-9-09 Higher Education Can Be Denied to Those with Criminal Convictions).

But there are a number of colleges that are willing to provide a second chance to people with a criminal record. All is well, that ends well, right? Not quite, as a new study discovered that people who check “yes” to the question “Do you have a Felony?” on a college application have a higher attrition rate than those who check “No.” So what can be done to slash the attrition rate among this particular group of students?

JustLeadershipUSA recently announced the following:

The Education from the Inside Out Coalition and the Center for Community Alternatives (CCA) are pleased to announce the release of “Boxed Out: Criminal History Screening and College Application Attrition”. This report makes clear how the criminal history box on college applications and the supplemental requirements and procedures that follow create barriers to higher education for otherwise qualified applicants. JustLeadershipUSA is one of three organizations that guides the work of the Education from the Inside out Coalition. Highlights from Boxed Out: Criminal History Screening and College Application Attrition reveal:

  • Asking applicants about past felony convictions has a chilling effect, discouraging people from completing the application process. The supplemental application processes at SUNY campuses for people disclosing felony convictions can be characterized as an experience of running a gauntlet, with applicants who check the felony box “yes” subject to far-reaching, multiple requests for information, some of which are impossible to provide.

  • The application attrition rates for individuals who check “yes” to the felony conviction question on the SUNY application are significantly higher than the application attrition rates for the general applicant population.

  • Felony application attrition is a more formidable barrier to admission at SUNY campuses than rejection based upon a felony conviction.

  • The data suggest that criminal history screening policies and procedures have a disparate impact on African American applicants, particularly at the community college level.

    Education from the Inside Out Coalition and the Center for Community Alternatives made the recommendations:

  • Offer voluntary support services

  • Provide funding for prison-based education programs to provide reentry services that help formerly incarcerated people make a smooth transition to college in the community.

  • Assist in overcoming barriers to licensing.

  • Address public safety concerns that affect college campus communities by focusing on aspects of campus culture that promote high-risk behavior: rape culture and binge drinking.