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Bill Barring Higher Education Institutions from Inquiring about Applicant’s Criminal History Clears Assembly Committee

TRENTON (February 23, 2024) – Legislation prohibiting colleges and universities from using admissions applications that inquire about an applicant’s criminal history passed the Assembly Higher Education Committee on Thursday. Assembly Democrats Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, Linda S. Carter, and Benjie E. Wimberly sponsored Bill A895.

“By removing criminal history from college applications, we are ensuring that future students have an equal opportunity to showcase their academic skills, leading to a fair admissions process for all,” said Assemblywoman Reynolds-Jackson (D-Hunterdon, Mercer). “The bill acknowledges that all offenses are not of equal weight and by exempting egregious offenses and focusing on rehabilitation, we are able to strike a balance between public safety and giving individuals a chance of pursuing higher education.”

The legislation exempts certain egregious offenses from this prohibition. These include, but are not limited to, criminal homicide, human trafficking, kidnapping, sexual assault, and aggravated sexual assault.

Under the bill, if a higher education institution accepts an applicant for admission, the school can then inquire about the student’s criminal conviction history for the purposes of offering supportive counseling services and making decision about the person’s participation in campus life. For example, the college or university can inquire when obtaining information pertaining to immunizations, financial aid, or housing.

“This bill recognizes the significance of rehabilitation, where individuals should not be solely judged based on their past, but rather their efforts and commitment to self-improvement should be recognized,” said Assemblywoman Carter (Somerset, Union). “By removing this question, we are telling individuals they are more than a record, and that they can still make invaluable contributions in and out of the classroom.”

“Throughout life’s journey, everyone faces highs and lows, and an individual’s lows should not be a barrier to their education,” said Assemblyman Wimberly (D-Bergen, Passaic). “This bill opens doors to higher education for more people and underscores the importance of redemption and growth.”

A college or university may consider an applicant’s criminal history if that information is provided voluntarily by the applicant. Additionally, the provisions of the bill do not apply to an application for admission to law school.