Students Ask University to Pay for Volunteer Background Checks

By Michael Klazema on 2/5/2016

The University of North Carolina recently implemented a new policy that requires student volunteers to go through background checks if they will be working with minors. The background checks for these student volunteers are the same as what the university requires for its employees. And since the cost is $50 or more per check, some students are worried that the requirement could serve as a barrier to entry for those wishing to serve the community.

Indeed, The Daily Tarheel—UNC's on-campus student newspaper—recently published an editorial formally asking for a university policy change. "We urge the University and its Student Affairs department to front the costs for these checks rather than placing the financial burden on the students and student organizations," the article reads.

On one hand, it makes sense that students would question the new policy and the costs that come with it. As the Tarheel article notes, "public service" is including in UNC's mission statement, with the goal of turning students into "change-makers in the community." Community service and volunteer opportunities also offer additional hands-on experience and overall enrichment that students might not be able to get in the classroom.

But college isn't cheap. Between tuition bills, books, and room and board expenses, the average college student might now have $50 extra to spare. As a result, the fees behind UNC's new volunteer background check policy risk are barring some students from the opportunity to serve the community's youth.

On the other hand, checks like these are a must. College students are, in majority, legal adults with histories of their own. Most of these students who would seek to volunteer with children have clean records free of any criminal convictions—as do most students attending UNC or any other college. However, some college students do have histories of violence, sexual assault, drug use, and other serious crimes that can and should call into question their fitness to work one-on-one with minors. The Daily Tarheel editorial called UNC's new background check policy "overzealous," but it's really not any more extreme than the university requiring similar checks for its full-time employees.

The question ultimately comes down to one of cost. Should the university finance background checks for student volunteers wishing to work with minors throughout the community? Or should students pay for those checks, since they are the ones who will be reaping the benefits (and service hours) of community volunteering? Should a compromise be formed somewhere in between, where the university covers half of the background check cost, and students cover the other half?

Another question worth considering is whether or not the university paying for these checks would even help matters. Usually, when a university "covers" a cost of a student service or enrichment opportunity, the expense is just figured into tuition or student fees. In other words, students will probably end up paying for these background check costs either way.


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