tc columbia

Thinking “Beyond the Box”: The Use of Criminal Records in College Admissions

By: Judith Scott-Clayton


Alongside a high-profile movement pushing employers to “ban the box” (BTB) asking about prior criminal history on job applications, a parallel effort has emerged to ban the box in the context of college admissions. This effort is sometimes referred to as “beyond the box” and contributes to the active debate regarding the role of criminal records in college admissions. Asking about criminal history on college applications may pose a significant barrier to enrollment. Institutions, however, must balance issues of college access against legitimate campus safety and liability concerns.

In this Brookings report, the author examines the policy landscape and reviews available evidence to assess the potential benefits and costs of thinking beyond the box in college admissions. The author then offers six key findings that have emerged from this review.