At least one Illinois university will continue to ask applicants about their criminal histories despite a recent announcement from the Common Application that the form will no longer include the question as of next fall.
Earlier this month, the nonprofit organization that administers the Common App announced its plan to drop the question from the form, which is used by more than 800 universities and colleges across the country. Twenty-eight Illinois institutions use the Common App, including Millikin University in Decatur. In their announcement, the Common App acknowledged that most institutions surveyed said they’d like to keep question as part of the application process.
Sarah Shupenus, vice president of enrollment and marketing at Millikin, said the school will continue to ask applicants about their criminal backgrounds despite the change. She said the question has no bearing on the admissions decision, but it does inform the way university officials may approach a student regarding expected behavior on campus.
“We are pretty intrusive with our students in terms of having in-depth conversations about what type of behavior we expect on campus,” Shupenus said.
Illinois State University does not use the Common App, though it does ask about an applicant's criminal and disciplinary history. Having such a record is not an automatic disqualifier.
Illinois Wesleyan University does use the Common App. IWU also asks applicants a criminal history question on its own application, though it's reviewing that question for future years.
Activists and educators who pushed for this change to the Common App have said that asking about criminal histories can discourage those with a record from applying to college. They also note that minority youth are more likely to have a criminal record than their white peers, and that asking the question may disproportionately impact people of color. Last year, Louisiana became the first state to prohibit public universities and colleges from asking about criminal histories as part of the application process.
Shupenus said she doesn’t believe that asking about criminal histories has dissauded students from applying to Millikin.
“Millikin had record applications this year ... and it certainly isn’t discouraging anyone from applying when we’ve been asking that question for years,” she said.
When asked if Millikin has admitted students with criminal records in the past, Shupenus said, “not to my knowledge, but I’m not 100 percent sure about that.”
The University of Illinois at Chicago uses the Common App form, but the Urbana-Champaign and Springfield campuses do not, according to Tom Hardy, a spokesperson for the U of I.
Hardy said a task force was organized earlier this year to study the application processes at all three U of I campuses — including whether to ask applicants about their criminal histories. He said the group is expected to present their findings and recommendations for changes to the application process at some point in the coming year.
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