The U of M will stop asking applicants about prior felonies

It's the latest in the "ban the box" movement.

The University of Minnesota will no longer ask applicants about prior felony convictions.

This comes at the recommendation of the Student Senate, which in 2015 said the university should remove the criminal history disclosure question from the application because it can disproportionately affect certain groups of people and deter people from applying, without any concrete evidence that it makes the campus safer.

So, starting with the 2018 class, the U of M will no longer ask prospective students if they have prior felonies, the Pioneer Press reports. The university made this announcement in a letter sent out last month. According to the Minnesota Daily, it said:

“Our goal in the admissions process is to ensure access for all qualified students, while ensuring the safety and academic integrity of our student body. We do, however, recognize the racial biases of our criminal justice system. We will continue to look at these application questions and analyze the data from the response as we move forward.”

Bob McMaster, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, told the Minnesota Daily the decision to do so was made because "those individuals did not represent a threat to our campus."

The U of M will still ask if students have been convicted of sexual offenses or have been punished for academic dishonesty, with McMaster telling the paper they feel that's something they need to know.

Those applying for student housing will still be asked about their criminal history, the Pioneer Press notes. And the criminal history question will still be on the Common App, which allows prospective students to apply to roughly 700 colleges (including the University of Minnesota) using one application.

'Ban the box'

The move by the University of Minnesota is part of a larger movement to "ban the box" on college and job applications.

The campaign – which has been supported by President Barack Obama and the U.S. Department of Education – aims to protect applicants from being asked about their criminal histories on applications.

Supporters of the movement say those who are asked the question feel like they aren't going to get into the school or get the job because they have a felony, the Atlantic reported. While The Marshall Project noted the box doesn't give applicants a chance to explain what their criminal history is.

survey published in 2014 found 35 percent of postsecondary institutions that were surveyed had denied admission or enrollment to at least one person due to their criminal history.

Some institutions are required to ask the question because of state law, the Atlantic noted.

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