This spring, the Texas legislature passed a new law permitting state-funded colleges and universities to conduct criminal background checks on all students wishing to live in on-campus housing. Now, with the fall semester fast approaching, institutions of higher learning are weighing the pros and cons of exercising their newly granted option of conducting these background checks.
The new law is designed to improve the safety of campus housing by making sure that student residents do not have troubles with the law that could interfere with the quality of life and safety of their fellow-students. Legislators mentioned the case of one student who was arrested on campus for sexual assault as an example of the sort of situation that the new policy could prevent. The student in question already had two pending charges for sexual assault on his record, and perhaps if school officials had known about these charges they could have prevented this repeat offender from gaining the opportunity to strike again on campus. Convictions for or charges of crimes like assault and burglary were also mentioned as targets of the legislation.
The new law gives state-funded colleges and universities the option of accessing files at the Texas Department of Public Safety via a secure website in order to perform the background checks on their students. The school’s police and/or housing officer would be the only individuals permitted to view the results of the background check. The decision as to whether or not to grant permission to live on-campus would be at their sole discretion, and the paperwork generated by the background check would be destroyed as soon as the semester began.
While the ability to run background checks on students living on campus would provide valuable insight into campus safety issues, the legislation is not exactly perfect. One major flaw is that the law only provides free access to a state-based database rather than a national one. This means that charges or convictions in states other than Texas will not show up. Naturally this makes screening out of state students relatively useless and ignores the fact that even Texas residents could have committed crimes outside their own state.
In order to really get a more comprehensive picture of a student’s background, a college would need to use a national background check tool such as US OneSEARCH from backgroundchecks.com. This tool can return public criminal records from every state in the union, including the those contained in the files of the Texas Department of Public Safety and similar state institutions nationwide, so it would provide a better picture of a student’s criminal history. US OneSEARCH can deliver results almost instantly, making it ideal for accommodating last-minute background checks on late enrollments.
Another potential issue with the background check law is that it only provides for a background check at the beginning of the semester. This may leave a vulnerability because school officials may remain unaware of incidents that occur during the semester and result in worrisome charges against a student until the start of the new semester. This undermines the stated purpose of the law, which is to keep campuses safer from individuals with criminal records.
Midwestern State does not plan to use the background check process just yet. Fall 2013 was deemed too short of notice to inform their students of the change in on-campus living requirements and still provide them with adequate time to find alternate living arrangements.
Midwestern State may begin using background checks in Spring 2014, assuming they can figure out how to conduct background checks on out of state students.
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Author: Michael Klazema
About Michael Klazema The author
Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments