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Going Back to College? Criminal Stigma in Higher Education Admissions in Northeastern U.S.

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Access to education is a constant theme in discussions germane to correctional reform, particularly to reduce rule breaking while incarcerated and re-offending after release from prison. Focusing on the latter, we examine the extent to which education is accessible for individuals who have felonious non-violent records in the United States (US). We generated a stratified random sample of 85 institutions of higher education (IHE) in the northeastern US and analyzed emails from admission departments in response to inquiries about how a felony record would affect admissions decisions. Results from multivariate models indicate that the institution type (public vs. private) significantly predicts how an IHE would use an individual’s criminal history in admissions decisions. Public IHEs are less likely to consider criminal history when reviewing an individual’s application and IHEs with higher proportions of minority students are associated with reduced consideration of an applicant’s criminal history in admissions decisions.

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  1. We excluded 2-year private colleges because of inconsistency in the possibility of degree attainment. We also excluded all for-profit schools.

  2. This breakdown is reflective of the percentage of total public 2 and 4-year (51%) compared to private 4-year IHEs (49%) in 2015–2016 (National Center for Education Statistics:


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Correspondence to Douglas N. Evans.

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Evans, D.N., Szkola, J. & St. John, V. Going Back to College? Criminal Stigma in Higher Education Admissions in Northeastern U.S.. Crit Crim 27, 291–304 (2019).

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