Felony question removed from application

On Sept. 14, the State University of New York board of trustees removed the question about felony convictions from its undergraduate application.

According to The New York Times, it is a step forward for colleges to remove questions about criminal histories from college applications.

In a statement to the SUNY Board of Trustees, Governor Andrew Cuomo praised the decision to remove the question, saying, “Higher education represents an important stepping stone toward personal and professional fulfillment. Every New Yorker deserves a fair and equal chance to achieve their goals.”

All 64 SUNY schools will be a part of a “Ban the Box” movement, committed to forgoing the felony question. In addition, the SUNY Student Assembly came up with a resolution that will prevent criminal screenings before a student is admitted and not allow a school to reject an applicant based on criminal history.

“I’m proud to lead the SUNY Student Assembly at a time when we’ve made such powerful and important strides in the area of fairness equality,” said SUNY Student Assembly President Marc Cohen.

In June, the White House launched the Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge, which asks colleges and universities to eliminate the use of criminal histories when evaluating a candidate. So far, 172 schools have signed the pledge. Cohen said he was impressed with the number of other colleges who want to follow SUNY’s lead.

In May, John B. King, education secretary for the Obama administration, released a letter to universities and colleges urging them to remove the question about an applicant’s criminal history.

“Those who have paid their debt and served their sentences deserve an equal chance to learn and thrive,” King wrote. “Together, through the power of high-quality education, we can help youth and adults who have been involved with the criminal justice system rebuild their lives, reclaim their sense of purpose and direction, rejoin society, and realize their full potential.”

King also released a fact sheet entitled “Beyond the Box,” which gives colleges and universities a guide on how to remove the stigma on applicants with a criminal past.

“The White House is calling on businesses and higher ed institutions around the country to eliminate barriers for individuals with a criminal history,” said Oswego State Chief Communications Officer Wayne Westervelt.

Westervelt said Oswego State will comply with SUNY’s policy while keeping campus safety in mind.

Oswego State Director of Admissions Daniel Griffin said the college’s current policy includes reviewing documentation about the applicant’s criminal history, information about rehabilitation and academic or employment progress since their last offense. Once those documents are received, their application will be reviewed. Sometimes, admissions representatives will contact an applicant prior to concluding its review and communicating the decision to the applicant.     

A study done by the Center for Community Alternatives, a nonprofit organization in New York, found that 2,924 applicants for SUNY schools checked the box stating that they have been convicted of a felony. Of those applicants, about 63 percent do not complete the application.

Cohen, a graduate student at SUNY Albany, said the felony question is biased.

“These students are being discouraged from even applying to SUNY because they’re afraid of the bias that comes along with checking the box,” Cohen said. “The mission of SUNY is to learn, to search, and to serve.”

With the passing of the resolution, Cohen and his assembly are hoping to further help students move forward.

The change to SUNY’s application will take effect in the fall 2018 application cycle. Applicants will only be asked about any prior felony convictions after they are admitted and if they decide to live on campus or participate in field, clinical or study abroad programs.