Texas Colleges and Universities Allowed to Run Background Checks on Students Living On-Campus
This year, Texas Governor Rick Perry granted colleges and universities across Texas authorization to run background checks on students planning to live on campus. In March 2013, the Texas Senate passed Senate Bill 146, which Governor Perry recently signed into law on June 14, 2013. According to a press release from Texas Senator Tommy Williams, some colleges have discovered that students in on-campus housing occasionally have criminal records, including assault, aggravated assault, assaulting a police officer and home burglary. Senator Williams credited Kilgore College for seeking the legislation.
SB 146: Access to Criminal History Record Information
Under SB 146, higher education institutions can now access the Department of Public Safety’s website for official information before allowing students to live on campus. Access to criminal history records may be used by the school’s chief of police or housing office only for the purposes of evaluating applications for students applying to live on campus. Schools are required to notify the student of any information used to deny their application to live on-campus. Additionally, criminal history information may not be released or disclosed to anyone except by a court order or with the consent of the subject of the background check.
Keep in mind that the new Texas law doesn’t require public universities and colleges to perform the student background checks. Each institution has the autonomy to decide whether they will require background screening for students applying to live on campus. Unlike a similar law that failed to pass in 2011, SB 146 does not grant private colleges access to the criminal record information. Click here to read the full-text of SB 146.
Colleges Running Student Background Checks for On-Campus Housing
Grayson College, one of the schools that chose to start running background checks on students applying to live on campus this fall, considers ensuring a safe environment to be their primary goal. Blinn College, another school that supported the new law, described SB 146 as a big step in improving the safety of college campuses and insuring the safety of students. According to the school's website, Blinn College also requires criminal history background checks for students applying for housing.
Considerations and Limitations of SB 146
While the new law grants schools in Texas access to the DPS website, there are a few considerations to keep in mind. The DPS website only shows pending charges and convictions for each student, provided that they occurred in Texas. Schools, therefore, will not have access to crimes committed outside of the state. Consequently, criminal records of out-of-state students and international students will also not be available. Another limitation of this law requires a school’s chief of police or housing office to immediately destroy any criminal history information obtained as part of the on-campus housing application process at the beginning of the academic semester.
While schools can benefit from the new privileges provided by the new Texas law, the limitations of the state’s criminal records indicate the need for a more comprehensive solution. Background screening firms, like PreCheck, can provide schools with high quality background checks that provide a more complete picture of the applicant.