A recent study headed by Carol Runyan, Ph.D., MPH and professor of epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public health found that students with criminal records prior to college were somewhat more likely to commit crimes once admitted, but that the screening process usually failed to detect them. The research was published in the journal, Injury Prevention.


The study surveyed 6,972 students at a large, unidentified southern university. It found that only 3.3 percent of college seniors who engaged in misconduct reported their pre-college criminal pasts during the admissions process. The researchers also found that 8.5 percent of students who had a criminal history prior to attending college were charged with misconduct during college.


The researchers obtained the information from college records and self-reports of graduating seniors, and also reviewed precollege behavior questions on admissions records. The types of crimes that they focused on were significant, such as assault, robbery, DUIs and drug-related crimes. They did not focus on minor offenses.


The discussion section of the paper indicates that screening questions on an application aren’t enough to detect which students will engage in college misconduct. Additionally, the results don’t necessarily mean schools should not ask students about their behavioral backgrounds – there can be value for schools in doing this. The researchers also believed that replicating the study to determine the effectiveness of criminal background investigations as part of admissions would be a beneficial follow up.