Pomona removes criminal history question from application

Several students, staff, and community members walk and bike along Pomona College's campus outside of Bridges Auditorium.
Pomona’s admissions committee removed its criminal history question for the 2019-2020 admissions cycle. (Chris Nardi • The Student Life)

For this year’s admissions cycle, Pomona College removed an application question asking prospective students if they have criminal histories, according to Adam Sapp, Pomona’s assistant vice president and director of admissions. 

However, the school will still require admitted students to answer whether they have been convicted of a crime before accepting an offer of enrollment, according to Pomona’s website

Students who answer yes must send “context and background information” for committee review, the website said. 

A review committee made up of Pomona “admissions officers, staff and faculty” will then meet to determine whether an applicant’s criminal history justifies rescinding admission, according to the site. 

The committee will notify candidates of its decision before they may finish enrolling, according to the website. 

Sapp said the change stems from “significant national conversation about the use of criminal history questions in applications” in the last few years. 

A committee that included administrators and faculty gathered to rework Pomona’s criminal history policy, and received approval from the Committee on Admissions and Financial Aid, which is comprised of students, admissions staff and faculty, Sapp said via email to TSL. 

Sapp said the committees agreed that including the criminal history question at that point in Pomona’s application process was unnecessary, but “still felt it was important to know more about the criminal history of students admitted to the College who were seeking to enroll.” 

The change was “informed by a body of research that suggests that asking a criminal history question on an application has a chilling effect on applicants from marginalized backgrounds even applying, and disproportionately impacts communities of color,” Sapp said.

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It’s also in line with decisions by major players in higher education.

In 2018, the nonprofit organization behind the Common Application removed the criminal history question from the section shared among colleges. 

While universities can choose to include the question in their own specific portion of the Common App, Pomona will leave it out. 

The University of California system has never required information on applicants’ criminal histories, according to Stephen Handel, UC’s associate vice president of undergraduate admissions. 

Rather, specific campuses can request this information on student housing forms once they’ve sent out offers of admission, according to Handel.

Pomona’s decision also mirrors new statewide law regarding hiring.

California passed the Fair Chance Act in Jan. 2018, legally prohibiting employers from asking about criminal history prior to making job offers “in most situations,” according to Sapp.

After making a conditional employment offer, employers may ask job candidates if they have a history of convictions and conduct a background check, but are required to make an individualized assessment about the “nature and gravity” of the conviction and “cannot simply say that they won’t hire anyone convicted of a certain crime,” according to the LA County website.

Pomona is currently the only Claremont College to have removed the criminal history question from its application; the other four colleges still include it among their college-specific questions on the Common App, their respective applications showed.

ASCMC is currently discussing a proposal to remove the criminal history question from Claremont McKenna College’s application, and Pitzer College is also considering removing it, Pitzer spokesperson Anna Chang said via email. It’s unknown if there is discussion of removing the question at Harvey Mudd or Scripps.

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