New Bill Could Give West Virginia Colleges the Power to Run Background Checks on Incoming Students

By Michael Klazema on 1/28/2014

With a few exceptions, background checks are generally thought of as pertaining to employment situations. However, growing reservations about educational environments and the pool of vulnerable potential victims they provide to criminals has recently resulted in numerous game-changing pieces of legislation within the background screening industry. First, the trends were all about boosting security in schools and classrooms, tightening screening regulations on teachers, coaches, and other employees and volunteers. Next, it was a move to make elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools safer and more impregnable to potential shooters and other criminals, a task that has been accomplished in some areas through the use of visitor background checks.

Now, however, along with employees, volunteers, and visitors, educational institutions are moving to the next group of people that could represent a threat to overall safety: the students themselves. Reportedly, a new house bill is currently percolating that could give West Virginia state colleges, universities, and other higher education institutions the power to run background checks on incoming students.

The legislative proposal, called House Bill 4009, would allow state colleges to run background screening checks on any incoming students who are applying for residence in on-campus housing, including dormitories and on-campus apartments. The overarching goal of the proposal is to facilitate greater safety and security among college and university residential communities. Typically at colleges, a great number of students are thrown together under the roof of the same residence halls, often being forced to share a small room with someone whom they do not know well or trust.

While many college roommates bond immediately upon arrival to school, building trust and becoming lifelong friends in the process, this is not always the case. Other scenarios arise where one roommate feels the other is stealing from them, or even where more serious crimes take place. A law allowing for the background checks of incoming residents would give colleges a greater ability to monitor the safety of their residence communities and to make sure no students are being put in harm’s way by being forced to live with potentially dangerous roommates.

On the subject of untrustworthy roommates, House Bill 4009 also contains a provision that would allow students to request background checks on other students. The student making the background check would have to shoulder the cost of the screening procedure – with the school itself covering the cost of more routine background examinations. However, for students feeling threatened by a roommate, the provision could offer an easy peace-of-mind solution.

Thus far, House Bill 4009 has received mixed reviews from university heads around the state of West Virginia. While some would certainly appreciate the ability to run background checks on incoming students – especially on students who transfer from other institutions with little explanation, or whose transcripts indicate expulsion from a previous school. On the other hand, other college heads have worried that giving students the power to request background checks on fellow students could be like opening Pandora’s Box. College students – roommates especially – routinely have petty arguments with one another, and the ability to request background checks presents a risk of those arguments escalating into more serious and complex issues. The cost of a background screening would certainly discourage abuse of the new legislation, but the provision could still end up being more of a headache than it is worth for colleges.

Precisely what the university background checks would entail remains to be seen. Criminal background screenings and sex offender searches – both offered instantaneously through’s US OneSEARCH – would be essential. Other checks could possibly include education verification and potentially even drug screening.


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