The New York Times estimated that 70 million Americans who have criminal records face challenges when applying to colleges. Some college applications, including Manhattan College, include questions that surround criminal convictions that can possibly hinder a student’s acceptance during this year’s admissions cycle
“A person’s past mistakes are discussed on a case-by-case basis. Before all else, our priority is the safety of our students, staff and administration,” Troy Cogburn, director of transfer admissions, said. “If there are no concerns with that, then we will move forward with reviewing the application for admission.”
Dana Rose, director of admissions, said that both the Common Application and the Manhattan College application require applicants to disclose whether or not they have been adjudicated guilty or convicted of a misdemeanor, felony or other crime. The applications additionally require applicants to provide any disciplinary violations while in high school.
“We would never admit a student who could jeopardize the welfare of our community,” Rose said.
The safety for the Manhattan College community is the utmost importance, but the Lasallian principles also include, “respect for human dignity, an emphasis on ethical conduct, and commitment to social justice.” Associate Professor of Sociology Cory Blad, Ph.D., believes that individuals with criminal records should be able to attend MC.
“If we said no then the whole point of life after incarceration would be relatively meaningless,” Blad said. “The theory of incarceration is paying for crime, and part of the problem with the U.S. justice system is that it’s morphed into a lifetime punishment, and removal of opportunities whether it is a mistake or case by case.”
In America Magazine, Professor Andrew Skotnicki published an article describing his course at Rikers Island called Engaging, Educating, Empowering Means Change. Students from MC travel to Rikers Island where they take a class with an equal number of inmates, who they call inside brothers and sisters. “We wanted to do something to correct the tilt in the national ethos that poor people of color, especially those with a criminal record, are, as one sociologist termed it, ‘unmeltable’ in the great melting pot of American society,” Skotnicki said.
Skotnicki wrote in his article that MC students had life-changing experiences after taking his course.
“We are kept so far away from the prison system that we have even fictionalized the system to a point that we do not know what it really is,” Blad said. “The course allows students to meet people who are working incredibly hard for their future and develop a better understanding of the reality of the situation.”
Even with the relationship between MC and Rikers Island, Rose said the inmates within the course do not impact the admissions committee decisions concerning criminal offenses.
“The students in the program are not matriculated and a stipulation of the program is that they are non-violent offenders,” Rose said. “This program does not change the admissions office’s role or perspective when determining and offering acceptance for matriculated status.”