Holly Raines, admissions officer at Connors State College Muskogee campus, shows some of the paperwork students fill out for admissions. Connors does not do criminal background checks for regular students, though checks are done on nursing students.

Along with their grades and residence status, high school seniors face another important question on their college applications: “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?”

And many colleges, including the University of Oklahoma and nursing programs at Connors State College and Northeastern State University, back that question up with criminal background checks.

“I don’t think it’s a bad idea,” said Fort Gibson High School senior Cade Roberts, who plans to attend OU. “What if you get a roommate with a background of gang activity or if you get a felon you don’t know about.”

Campus shootings at Virginia Tech University and Northern Illinois University have prompted some calls for criminal background checks on people applying for admission, as well as those applying for jobs. The advocacy group Security on Campus has called for background checks for students applying to colleges.

Muskogee High School senior Nathan Oney, said “colleges have a right to do that.”

He said he saw the stipulation about felony convictions and criminal background checks on applications for several different colleges.

“It’s pretty universal,” said Oney, who will attend Oklahoma City University. “I don’t want to end up with a person who’s been convicted of a felony.”

Oklahoma colleges have differing policies on background checks.

For those who answer “yes” to the felony question on OU’s application, the university sends the applicant a letter and release for a background check, said Matt Hamilton, OU registrar and associate vice president for enrollment and student financial services.

“When the applicant’s explanation and release form are received, the University requests a background check through the OU Office of Human Resources, and the results of the background check, with the applicant’s explanation, are reviewed by the admissions committee.”

He said applicants can appeal if the application is denied.

At NSU, students who answer “yes” to the felony question must write a description of the circumstances and attach it to the application, said NSU Public Relations Director Nancy Garber. The student then appears before a special admissions committee, which decides whether to allow admission based on various factors such as whether a student poses a threat to himself, others or to the campus community, Garber said. “Otherwise, we do not require prospective students to submit to a background check.”

Similarly, Connors application asks if the student had ever been convicted of a felony and to describe circumstances surrounding the conviction. Connors also does not require a criminal background check.

Nursing programs are exceptions. Garber said the NSU nursing program does require a background check for abuse, violence and substance abuse.

Glenda Shockley, director of the Connors nursing program, said students cannot be accepted into the nursing program without going through the background check.

She said nursing students do some of their learning at Muskogee Regional Medical Center, Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center and other facilities.

“We have to comply with our clinical agencies’ requirements,” Shockley said. “If a student has had a felony conviction in the past five years, the student cannot take the licensing exam. Students have to go through lots of documentation and clearances to take the exam. It is in our advisory material, too.”

OU’s athletic department “works with the University of Oklahoma police department to conduct background check on all student athletes receiving scholarships,” Hamilton said. “The athletics department tests every student-athlete (for drugs) during their playing season, and each roster randomly in the off season.”

The University of Tulsa does not do criminal background checks on students, but does ask if the student has ever been convicted of a felony, been suspended or dismissed from high school, or required to register as a sex offender, said University Relations Director David Hamby. “Failure to answer all questions truthfully or to disclose information honestly will subject an accepted applicant to having the offer of admission rescinded or will subject an enrolled student to the University’s student judicial process and may result in dismissal from the University.”

Even so, student character is central to TU’s admission process, Hamby said. “To that end, TU works closely with high school guidance counselors to determine whether an applicant has character or academic issues of which the university needs to be aware.”

Reach Cathy Spaulding at 918-684-2928 or Click Here to Send Email

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