Should Colleges Require All Students to Undergo Background Checks?

Should Colleges Require All Students to Undergo Background Checks?
Senior Director of Marketing

Most health sciences and allied health professions schools require background checks for students entering clinical programs, but should colleges require background checks for all students? The University of Iowa has recently implemented changes to their process that would standardize the use of background checks for student applicants. Beginning this month, all student applicants to the University of Iowa will have to disclose whether they’ve ever been convicted of a crime or subject to prior scholastic discipline. According to a June 2015 article in The Gazette, the new criminal background questions will eventually be included on a common application being developed in hopes of improving convenience for students wanting to apply to more than one of Iowa’s public universities.

The use of student background checks in American colleges and universities varies greatly as background check requirements vary by State. Whether your institution is considering implementing a comprehensive student background screening program, here are a few things to consider as you work on your policies.

Not All Students Require a Background Check, Iowa State University Says

Iowa State University (ISU) is one of Iowa’s public universities that are standardizing their student background check process through the common application which is expected to debut in a limited form this month as part of the application cycle for Fall 2016. While ISU has had a criminal background check question on their student application for years, the school does not conduct a criminal background check on every student that applies for admission. ISU has found that most of the self-reported conduct has been so minor that it approves the majority of student applications with self-reported criminal history anyway. “Only a small number undergo any kind of background check, and an even smaller percentage have their admission affected by their conduct,” Phil Caffrey, ISU Director of Admissions Operations and Policy, said in a statement for the Gazette. “There are rare instances when we have denied students based on past conduct, but we do so out of concern for the safety of students and staff.”

Why Student Background Checks are Beneficial

According to a March 2012 article from University Business, an increasing number of colleges are mandating background checks for students, especially those enrolled in health science programs. The article’s author, David C. Sawyer, stresses that “there is a sound argument to be made for background queries, if not full screenings, for all college-bound students—and for annual checks while the student is enrolled on campus.” In support of this argument, Sawyer cites the tragic Virginia Tech massacre from April 2007, that resulted in the deaths of 32 students and faculty, in addition to leaving another 25 victims wounded. In addition to keeping school campuses safe against acts of violence, consistently checking for criminal records is a preventive measure that can protect a school’s reputation and safeguard against potential law suits, Sawyer argues in the article.

According to the results of a 2010 survey by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, more than 60 percent of colleges consider applicants’ criminal histories in admissions decisions, but less than half of those have formal policies for how to do so. In a June 2010 for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Darby Dickerson, Dean of Stetson University’s College of Law, recommends not simply considering students’ criminal histories, but also establishing policies to evaluate them fairly and consistently. In addition to establishing policies to how to handle students criminal history, Dickerson also advised institutions to consider updating their information with repeated checks.

Legal issues can arise from the use of background checks in the student admission process, such as when an applicant is denied admission because of accurate information discovered during the background check, for example. However, there are no state or federal laws that prohibit institutions of higher education from requiring admissions applicants or admitted students to undergo criminal background checks. Implementing a student background check policy requires careful planning and consulting with HR and legal counsel is key when writing an effective background check policy. With the right planning, a student background check policy can help institutions of higher education keep their students and faculty safe from harm.

Is your institution evaluating background screening providers? Contact us today to learn how PreCheck can help you implement your student background screening program.

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