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Taking a Lawbreaking Past Out of College Applications

A bill being debated by the General Assembly would make Maryland the first state to prohibit public and private colleges and universities from including questions about criminal history on their applications. Admissions offices could still ask applicants who have been accepted whether they have been convicted of a crime, but could not withdraw an offer of admission based on the answer.

Advocates say having the question on applications can disqualify some candidates and scare away others. Getting rid of it, in their view, would be the next step in Maryland’s quest to level the criminal justice playing field and help felons remake their lives.

Opponents, including some college administrators, say the question yields valuable information about potential students and would be hard to excise from application forms, given that many institutions rely on the Common Application, which asks about criminal history.