The State of University of New York Board of Trustees has voted to eliminate the felony conviction check box from standard admissions applications, effectively “banning the box” for students who may have once feared applying to a SUNY school based on their criminal record.

The new application changes will be updated SUNY-wide in time for the 2018 academic year.

In a SUNY Student Assembly resolution, the assembly said “criminal history screenings should only be implemented after a student has been admitted, and that they should never be used to revoke admission.”

The vote gained widespread attention, with an article appearing in the New York Times opinions section.

“The State University of New York came under scrutiny last year when a study by the Center for Community Alternatives — a nonprofit that focuses on alternatives to imprisonment — showed that nearly two-thirds of people who answered “yes” to the felony question stopped short of completing the application process,” the article published by the NY Times’ Editorial Board.

Student Assembly President and Trustee Marc Cohen said the initiative means a “great deal” to both the board and students.

“This really amplifies what SUNY is made of.” Cohen said, “It’s a system of access and openness.”

Once accepted, students may be asked to disclose their felon-status if they are applying for housing, internships, clinical training or study abroad programs. The request can be denied if the particular school can prove the student poses an “unreasonable safety risk,” according to the NY Times.

“We would still be able to inquire about criminal convictions if students seek to study abroad, live on campus, participate in clinical or field experiences, get an internship or study abroad, according to the resolution passed by the trustees,” said PSUC Executive Director of Marketing and Communications Ken Knelly. “The SUNY system looked at this broadly and made its decision at the trustee level. Its work included the working group it set up. That group reported it found “no statistically significant” information that would indicate schools across the country that banned the question saw more crime on their campuses.”

The group Knelly referenced was a “Ban the Box Workgroup” established by SUNY. The group is comprised of system and campus representatives that evaluate admission policies and practices, and use their findings to recommend further courses of action.

This “ban the box” movement will not directly affect the financial aid process however, as financial aid is determined at the federal level, unlike the box movement on a state level.

Plattsburgh State Director of Financial Aid Todd Moravec said although the impacts of the box vote are not directly related to Free Application for Federal Student Aid, FAFSA, forms and financial aid applicants, the movement may influence federal agencies to renew their application forms in the future.

Currently, the only criminal-related question on FAFSA forms asks if the applicant has ever been “convicted for the possession or sale of illegal drugs for an offense that occurred while you were receiving federal student aid.”

This also includes grants, work study programs or loans.

Even though the question is present on FAFSA forms, a “yes” answer does not automatically prevent a student from receiving aid. The applicant is given a “drug conviction eligibility worksheet” in which the answer questions about their conviction(s) to determine whether they are eligible for aid.

Cohen said overall, the ban the box movement was implemented as a means of conflict resolution, eliminating bias, providing opportunities, and creating a path forward for potential students.

“The State University of New York is committed to providing all New Yorkers the broadest possible access to quality public higher education, including those who have succeeded through the justice system following a felony conviction,” SUNY Board Chairman H. Carl McCall said in a press release following the vote.

Email Marissa Russo at cp@cardinalpointsonline.com

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