U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. plans to announce during an appearance at UCLA today that he wants colleges to stop asking applicants about their criminal histories early in the admissions process, a newspaper reported. Asking applicants for information about their criminal history can
prevent them from finishing their applications, King says, according to the Los Angeles Times. Because a disproportionate number of people who have been charged with crimes are people of color, these questions increase the barriers disadvantaged students face when seeking an education, according to the U.S. Department of Education. “We believe in second chances and we believe in fairness,” King has
said in a statement cited by The Times. “We must ensure that more people have the chance at higher education opportunities.” King is making the announcement at UCLA because he considers the University of California to be a model system in this regard, The Times reported. The UC system has never asked for information related to applicants criminal backgrounds, Stephen Handel, UC’s associate vice president of undergraduate admissions, told the newspaper. Handel said UC has no plans to ask for such information. Once students are admitted, he said, specific campuses can ask for criminal histories on housing application forms. King is scheduled to be at UCLA today to take part in a roundtable discussion on criminal justice reform efforts as they relate to college campuses. He’ll be joined at the event by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. Kim Hunter Reed, the U.S. deputy undersecretary of education, told The Times that the government wants universities to ask themselves whether they truly need applicants’ criminal histories, and if they decide they do, to delay asking about that history until an applicant is further in the admission process. Though the federal government has no means of enforcing the proposal, officials hope to influence universities to be more sensitive toward people who have been in prison, according to The Times. The proposal follows other attempts to keep people with criminal backgrounds from being permanently stigmatized.