Background Checks for Students – As Violence Grows, Are They A Good Idea? 19 Sep 2017


It began with the Virginia Tech massacre ten years ago, when an English major on campus killed 31 people, wounding another 25 students and faculty before taking his own life. It remains one of the worst mass shootings in US history.

Since that time, acts of lethal violence on college campuses around the U.S. have proliferated at alarming rates. Every year since Virginia Tech, at least one student has killed someone at their school, ranging from the relatively quiet single incident of a deadly student fight at Cornell in 2016, to a near epidemic in 2014, when sixteen separate lethal incidents occurred on U.S. campuses.

As the violence continues, schools are getting more proactive

The growing concern over campus violence – and violent massacres occurring everywhere warrants a close look at campus safety, and how far institutions should go in background checks for students to identify predictive markers of high-risk behaviors and a tendency toward violence.

At the very least, college admissions screening should inquire about disciplinary issues, acts of violence, or criminal convictions of students while in high school. An increasing number of schools are checking into problems students report themselves on college applications, or asking about unexplained gaps in their school careers that might indicate jail time or juvenile detentions.

There are a number of compelling reasons for colleges to make background checks for students part of their regular admissions routine.

In addition to reducing the risks of violence, ordering background checks for students can also enhance a school’s reputation for protecting its campus, and help safeguard against potential lawsuits.

A word of caution, and fairness:

College entrance shouldn’t be denied to an aspiring student based on a minor past offense; consideration of the type and level of criminal conviction should always be taken into account. You can quickly differentiate between past imprudent teenage behavior and records which indicate a student could pose a current threat.

How to do it right

The best practice is to design a comprehensive review and evaluation process. It should set out protocols for dealing with common situations where potential safety concerns could arise.

Also, it should outline what to do in case of disputes.

  • To what extent can “red flagged” students challenge screening information?
  • Will specific background disclosures automatically disqualify a student from acceptance to their campus?
  • What is the protocol should a student refuse to participate in a background check? (Because by law, they have to give their prior written consent.)
  • Who will maintain the screening data, and for how long will it be kept in your system?

Privacy remains a foremost concern

The person reviewing the background information should be someone who is both trustworthy and discreet. If potentially damaging information is handled carelessly or “leaked,” you could be sued for libel. Keep the number of eyes reviewing student background checks to a minimum. Colleges and universities must also establish who will maintain the screening data and the length of time the information will be kept on file.

Where background checks for students are highly recommended: Healthcare Professions Training Programs

Due to the highly sensitive nature of the biomedical fields, many medical schools and clinical training programs have rigorous background screening as part of their applications process. Besides criminal history, drug testing and immunization tracking are all standard screening tests ordered by those schools’ administrators.

No matter what, you’ll want to work with a background screening company with an established network of security professionals whose principals are board certified in security management. Contact us to talk about a customized solution for your campus’ needs.