Research: how criminal charges affect a student's educational prospects

Most young people in Hanover County, North Carolina, understand that the decisions they make even as teenagers can affect the rest of their lives. However, many high school and college students may not be aware of the immediate impact that a criminal conviction can have on their educational prospects and their futures. In the last few years, research has begun to outline how a conviction can make a young person less likely to complete his or her education.

Educational consequences of criminal records

In addition to legal consequences, young people who have been accused of crimes face many other issues. A criminal record can hurt a young person's chances of finishing secondary education or seeking higher education.

A University of Texas study released last year suggests that zero-tolerance policies make students less likely to finish high school. The study, which followed students in Chicago, found that the dropout rate was 22 percent higher for students who had been arrested. The study authors noted that students who weren't expelled were still neglected by their teachers in favor of more "promising" students. It is easy to see why these students were less likely to complete or continue their educations.

A criminal history can also hinder an individual's ability to get into college. The Chronicle of Higher Education summarized the results of a survey of 250 institutions in 2010:

  • 60 percent of colleges took criminal history into account during the admissions process.
  • 18 percent of colleges conducted some kind of background check on some of their applicants.
  • Only 38 percent of the admissions staff at these colleges was given concrete guidelines on how to interpret a criminal record.
  • Crimes involving alcohol, sex, drugs or violence were weighted heavily against potential students.

Colleges take these measures to protect the student population. However, advocates for juvenile offenders point out that the standards are often arbitrary and that individuals who were not deemed dangerous by a court may still be penalized. A study published in Injury Prevention even concluded that criminal history was not a strong predictor for student misconduct during college.

Unfortunately, this isn't the only way that an imperfect record affects a student's access to education. A criminal conviction can also have financial consequences that hinder a student's ability to pursue higher education.

Financial impact of criminal convictions

According to the Department of Education's Federal Student Aid website, certain convictions do not affect financial aid eligibility. However, students who are currently incarcerated face reduced eligibility for aid. Students who have been convicted of sexual offenses or drug possession can completely lose eligibility for certain types of aid.

These findings underscore how critical it is that students make the most responsible choices that they can and seek legal aid when necessary. Even accusations that seem minor or inconsequential can have lasting consequences, so it's important that students get expert help to defend their futures.

If you are a high school or college student and you have been accused of criminal conduct, you should speak with an attorney immediately to make sure that your rights and prospects are protected.