The Virginia Tech massacre has prompted some calls for background checks on college applicants, says USA Today. “It’s an idea whose time has come,” says Catherine Bath of Security On Campus, a national advocacy group that has pushed for federal legislation aimed at keeping students safe. A number of colleges, including Virginia Tech, ask applicants whether they have been subjected to disciplinary action by a high school, college, or university; whether they have been convicted of a violation of any state or federal law, other than a minor traffic violation; and whether they are on probation or suspension. Applicants must explain “yes” answers. Similar questions were added this year to The Common Application, a form accepted by 298 institutions.
Formal background checks may not yield obvious benefits, says Ada Meloy of the American Council on Education. Three years ago, Certified Background, a company in Wilmington, N.C., was doing background checks on students for fewer than a dozen colleges; today it does student checks for about 500 colleges. Schools are “moving in the direction of doing (checks) at the admissions level,” says a company official. Among key reasons: to protect schools’ reputations and “to cover themselves” legally. Some states have tried to tighten the reins. Virginia passed a law last year requiring colleges to provide information to police on incoming students, who are then cross-checked with sex-offender lists. The North Carolina Legislature recently considered whether to require that college students be fingerprinted.