Criminal Background Searching

On May 4, 2004, Curtis Dixon, a student at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, raped and murdered a fellow female student (Blosser). On June 4 that same year, John Peck, also a student at UNCW, murdered a woman enrolled in a summer school program at the college (Blosser). Following police investigations, it was discovered that both of the men had lied on their college transcripts in denying having a criminal record (Blosser). Since then there have been ongoing debates about whether colleges need to require official background checks on all of their applicants in order to protect students living on college campuses. Though colleges still have a responsibility to protect their students, there is much evidence that shows background checks are not the solution and college applicants should not be denied admission simply because they have a criminal record.

In today’s world, a college education is a necessity, providing students with the knowledge they need to achieve their career goals. With each passing year it becomes more difficult to qualify for a respectable job without additional education beyond high school. Individuals without this post-secondary education often find themselves working for lower wages. Ohio State University researcher Bruce Weinberg reports that years of research and statistics have shown clearly that low wages lead to increases in crime rates (Grabmeier). In the words of Weinberg:
“National crime rates rose from 1979 to 1992, when wages for less skilled men were falling. Crime declined from 1993 to 1997. This decline in crime corresponded to a leveling off and slight increase in the wages of unskilled workers across the nation in that period (Grabmeier).” Weinburg’s research shows the relationship between income and crimes committed in the United States and his words clearly say that when wages are low, crime is high. If colleges deny admission to applicants with criminal records, they deny those people a critical advantage in a competitive job market, leaving them with few options other than to accept a low-paying job or none at all. These low wages will lead to an increase in crime rate. Colleges cannot deny admission to applicants merely because they have criminal records, because such a decision will ultimately lead to higher rates of crime.

Clearly, not everyone with a criminal record is a threat on a college campus, and potential college students should not have to fear that their past errors will keep them from having a successful future. Ellen Crowley Fullerton, a writer for Columbia News Service at Columbia University, wrote, “In an excess of caution, universities may deny admission to applicants with even minor infractions or people acquitted of violent crimes” (Fullerton). Opponents of background checks on college and university applicants are worried that people who have committed small crimes or who have only a few minor convictions on their record will be treated the same as individuals with multiple severe convictions (Fullerton). In other words, they are concerned that background checks will create bias against penitent individuals who wish to have a second chance. Daniel Carter, senior vice president of Safety-On-Campus, a non-profit organization, said: “If someone has a history of petty crime and they’re honest about it, I don’t think they should be denied an education. Someone who has a history of violence that is ongoing, they’re a threat to others and they should not be admitted” (Fullerton). Carter’s remarks delineate the difference between a “criminal” and an individual with a “criminal record” and he defines the line between second chances and endangering innocent students.

Finally, it is critical to examine the frequency of events such as the murders at UNCW and the volume of college applicants with criminal records. Sheldon Steinbach, vice president and general counsel of the American Council on Education, said (as quoted by Fullerton): “Your average kid applying to college hasn’t been convicted of a felony. If they have criminal convictions at all it is typically for petty crimes committed as a juvenile.” Since most states seal or expunge juvenile convictions from public records, “oftentimes by the time you apply to college, you can legally say you have not been convicted of a crime” (Fullerton). Steinbach’s comments only reinforce a logical conclusion. Before the murders at UNCW there were few people who would have thought to challenge the application process that colleges use. Two years later, there has yet to be an incident like the UNCW murders. Clearly Curtis Dixon and John Peck are anomalies. Background checks on college applicants would serve little purpose and only become an obstacle and a hassle for college applicants and those who would have to review them.

It cannot be denied that there is a threat wherever you go in the world, and college campuses are no exception. Certainly colleges have an obligation to protect their students, but background checks are not necessary and applicants should not be denied admission solely because they have a criminal history. Post-secondary educations must remain available to everyone because of the competitive job market that exists in today’s society. Denying individuals the opportunity for a post-secondary education because of a criminal record will only lead to lower wages and higher unemployment, which, as studies have shown, will only further increase crime rates. Additionally, background checks have the potential to create bias against individuals with criminal records but who are not a threat, individuals who, had their past actions not been known, would make excellent students that contributed to the campus and school community. The murders that occurred at UNCW were indeed tragic and unforgettable, but the incident has yet to be repeated, making background checks an unnecessary precaution that will only create more problems than it solves.

Works Cited

Blosser, Shannon. “College Criminals.” Campus Report 18 June 2004. Accuracy in Acedemia. 19 Oct. 2006 .

Fullerton, Ellen Crowley. “Screening College Applicants for a History of Violence.” Columbia News Service. 13 Dec. 2005. Columbia University. 13 Oct. 2006 .

Grabmeier, Jeff. “Higher Crime Rate Linked to Low Wages and Unemployment, Study Finds.” Research News. 10 Apr. 2002. The Ohio State University. 13 Oct. 2006 .

“Mean Earnings by Highest Degree Earned.” The 2006 Statistical Abstract. 2003. U.S. Census Bureau. 17 Oct. 2006 .