A Modified Experimental Audit of Criminal Records and College Admissions

Robert Stewart, Christopher Uggen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


In this article, we consider the effect of criminal records on college admissions. Nearly 72 percent of colleges require criminal history information during their application processes, which indicates that an applicant's criminal history could be a significant impediment to achieving the benefits associated with higher education. We conducted a modified experimental audit to learn whether and to what extent criminal records affect admissions decisions. Matched same-race pairs of tester applications were sent to a national sample of nonelite 4-year colleges, with both testers applying as either Black or White. Within each pair, one application signaled a prior low-level felony conviction only when required by the application. Consistent with the findings of research on employment, we find the rejection rate for applicants with felony convictions was nearly 2.5 times the rate of our control testers. Relative to the large racial differences observed in previous studies of hiring decisions, we find smaller racial differences in admissions decisions. Nevertheless, Black applicants with criminal records were particularly penalized when disclosing a felony record at colleges with high campus crime rates. We address implications for reentry, racial progress, and the college “Ban the Box” movement. We suggest colleges consider narrowing the scope of such inquiries or removing the question altogether – particularly when it conflicts with the goals of these institutions, including reducing the underrepresentation of students of color.”.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)156-188
Number of pages33
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 17 2016


  • collateral consequences
  • college
  • criminal records
  • education
  • experimental


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