The Atlantic Exclusive: White House Asks Colleges to Reconsider Using Criminal History as Part of Admissions Process

U.S. Education Secretary John King and White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett Interviewed in New Report, Online at

Washington, D.C. (June 10, 2016) -- In an exclusive interview with The Atlantic’s Juleyka Lantigua-Williams, U.S. Education Secretary John King and White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett have unveiled a major new criminal-justice effort by the Obama administration to remove obstacles to higher education for students with criminal records.  The initiative will be announced this afternoon.

The announcement follows an April report for The Atlantic’s “Next America” initiative, “Ban the Box’ Goes to College,” by Lantigua-Williams detailing how procedures used by the college admissions offices around the country target students with criminal histories and can constrict educational opportunity. Used by the popular Common App, the practice is said to help keep campuses safe, but opponents believe it has unintended negative effects, often to the disadvantage of minority applicants. The researchers and college officials that Lantigua-Williams spoke with as part of her reporting unanimously agreed that there is no real correlation between safety on campus and asking prospective students about their criminal records.

“If we do criminal justice reform only by doing sentencing reform, we will not have done enough. We’ve got to couple that with investments in education and job training and clearing away barriers to meaningful second chances,” Secretary King told Lantigua-Williams in a just-published exclusive detailing the initiative; available at

According to Common App, this year, 920,000 unique applicants used the tool to submit 4 million applications, or 4.4 applications per student; 700 colleges and universities will use the Common App during the next admissions cycle. Lantigua-Williams reports that in one survey, 35 percent of higher education institutions that responded said they had denied applicants based on their criminal history. An estimated 70 million Americans-- nearly one in three adults-- have criminal records.

“We’ve had a series of conversations with the folks who are responsible for the Common App. They’ve narrowed the scope of the question around criminal records. They removed a portion of the question that asked about other convictions or other criminal conduct, or some other quite ambiguous phrase and they’ve committed to narrowing the question,” Secretary King said in the new Atlantic report.

Lantigua-Williams also spoke with President Obama’s senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, who told The Atlantic: “Our goal here is to ensure that when people are released they have an opportunity to live a law-abiding life, that they have all the tools they need in order to thrive once they are released.”

This reporting is part of The Atlantic's "Next America" initiative, which explores how growing diversity is changing the national agenda. For more information or to speak with Juleyka Lantigua-Williams about her work, please be in touch with The Atlantic’s Sydney Simon (; 202-266-7338).

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