Skip to content

Schatz Reintroduces Legislation To Remove Barriers To Higher Education For Americans With Criminal Records

Schatz Bill Would Encourage Colleges, Universities To Remove Criminal History Questions From Admissions Process

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) reintroduced the Beyond the Box for Higher Education Act, which encourages colleges and universities to remove criminal and juvenile justice questions from their admissions applications by providing guidance and training to schools to change their policies. Most schools currently include these questions in their admissions processes.

“Everyone deserves the chance to rebuild their life through higher education, whether they have a criminal record or not,” said Senator Schatz. “This bill pushes colleges and universities to remove criminal history questions from the application process – a barrier that all too often keeps people from heading back to school.”

About 70 million Americans have some type of criminal record, which shows up on all routine background checks. These records make it difficult for these Americans to go to college, find a good-paying job, and rebuild their lives. Studies have shown that rejection rates for potential students with convictions can be 12 to 13 percentage points higher than applicants who don’t have these kinds of backgrounds, and many fail to complete their application once they reach the criminal history question.

As part of his push to encourage schools to change their processes, Senator Schatz has previously led letters to the “Big Six” higher education associations and the Common Application asking them to remove criminal history questions from their admissions processes. As a result, the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the American Association of Community Colleges urged their members to remove these questions. And beginning in August 2019, the Common Application removed criminal history questions from their form.

The original cosponsors of the Beyond the Box for Higher Education Act include U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

Companion legislation in U.S. House of Representatives is being led by U.S. Representative Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.).

The bill is supported by Association of American Colleges & Universities, Center for Disability Rights, Checkr Inc., Coalition for Juvenile Justice, College and Community Fellowship, National CURE, Dream Corps JUSTICE, Drug Policy Alliance, The Education Trust, From Prison Cells to PhD, Institute for Higher Education Policy, Jesuit Conference Office of Justice and Ecology, Justice Action Network, Justice & Accountability Center of Louisiana, Juvenile and Capital Advocacy Project, Juvenile Law Center, The Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, Middle Ground Prison Reform, National Association for College Admission Counseling, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, National Association of Social Workers, National Employment Law Project, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, Operation Restoration, Prison Scholar Fund, R Street Institute, Safe Streets & Second Chances, Safer Foundation, Second Chance Education Alliance Inc., Unlock Higher Ed, and Young Invincibles.

“This bill is instrumental in ensuring that all individuals have access to higher education, a cornerstone of the American Dream and essential to the strength of our democracy,” said Lynn Pasquerella, President of the Association of American Colleges & Universities.

The full text of the bill is available here.