CT Legislators Advocate for “Ban-the-Box” Bill in College Admissions

In response to the growing trend of colleges and universities inquiring about students’ school disciplinary histories on their applications, a group of Democrats is championing a “ban-the-box” bill. The proposed legislation, known as HB 5339, aims to prohibit higher education institutions from requesting information related to students’ school disciplinary records during the admissions process.

Here are the key points about the bill:

  1. Purpose: The bill seeks to eliminate the practice of asking applicants about their school disciplinary history, which can impact their chances of admission.
  2. Definition: In the bill, “school disciplinary history” encompasses any record of violations against a student in secondary or postsecondary institutions.
  3. Current Status: HB 5339 is currently before the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee.
  4. AdvocacyRep. Robyn Porter, a New Haven Democrat and co-chair of the Juvenile Justice Oversight and Policy Committee, has been a vocal advocate for the bill. She emphasizes that the “ban-the-box” concept originally aimed to promote fair employment opportunities for individuals with criminal records. By extending this policy to the higher education sector, students with criminal or disciplinary histories won’t be required to disclose such information during the application process.
  5. Impact: While colleges and universities argue that asking about disciplinary history is necessary for safety reasons, proponents of banning the question contend that its presence on applications hinders a holistic review of prospective students. Porter highlights the disproportionate impact of this practice on communities of color and students who identify as black or brown.
  6. Encouraging Applications: Porter believes that removing this question from the application process will encourage more students to apply, fostering greater access to higher education.

Tanya Hughes, the Executive Director of the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, has thrown her support behind the “ban-the-box” bill, echoing the sentiments expressed by Representative Robyn Porter. The bill aims to address a pressing issue related to college admissions: the practice of asking applicants about their school disciplinary histories.

Here are the key points from the discussion:

  1. Study Findings: In the 2021-22 school year, the Connecticut Board of Education conducted a comprehensive study on student disciplinary behaviors within the state’s public school system. The results were eye-opening:
    • Disproportionality: Black/African American students were three times more likely, and Hispanic/Latino students were more than twice as likely, to face suspension or expulsion compared to their white counterparts.
    • Higher Likelihood for Students of Color: Particularly concerning was the higher likelihood of suspension for students of color, especially Black/African American students.
  2. Common App’s Approach: While Common App, a widely used online college application, no longer asks about criminal history, it continues to inquire about school disciplinary history. This policy has been in place since 2019. According to Common App’s spokesperson, Jen Davis, the change regarding criminal history aimed to provide flexibility for institutions to comply with local requirements and policies.
  3. Safety Concerns: Representative Porter acknowledges colleges’ safety concerns on their campuses. However, she emphasizes that existing checks and balances within the admissions process already contribute to campus safety. Her focus is on allowing students to present their merits and what they bring to the table, rather than dwelling on past mistakes.
  4. Holistic Approach: Jennifer Widness, President of the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges (CCIC), expressed reservations. Most CCIC schools utilize Common App for admissions, and they worry that banning the question about disciplinary history might hinder their ability to take a holistic approach to evaluating applicants.

In summary, the “ban-the-box” bill seeks to strike a balance between fairness, safety, and holistic admissions. It aims to offer redemption opportunities to students while addressing the disparities in disciplinary outcomes.