Measuring the Impact of Background Checks on Reducing Crime in Higher Education

  •  Stephanie Hughes    
  •  Teressa L. Elliott    
  •  Margaret Myers    


Responding to a variety of constituent pressures in recent years, a number of states in the U.S. have enacted legal requirements that their public universities conduct background checks on prospective new employees. The assumption behind these mandates is that background checks reduce crime on campus. This study will attempt to test that assumption by utilizing data gathered under the reporting requirements of the Clery Act, from four states which have passed legislation requiring background checks: Arizona, Kentucky, Utah, and Wisconsin. The results of this preliminary study suggest that states that have either legislated or mandated the use of criminal background checks on new hires in university environments have not experienced a reduction in Clery Act incidents on their campus when comparing their pre-background check activity with their post-background check implementation. When the quality of the background check being utilized is included in the analysis, the results continue to show that there is no change in the Clery Act incident levels when comparing their pre-background check activity with their post-background check implementation.It is important to note that, prior to the launch of this study, we did not find any specific references to suggest that Clery Act reports were primarily capturing student level criminal data so we were surprised to find that background checks had no impact at all on campus crime levels.So, the results of this study may inadvertently provide support to the recognition that the Clery data tend to reflect only student-level criminal activity whereas the background checks analyzed in this report were applied only to new hires or transfers to new positions.While student employees were often covered in these policies, the general student population was not, setting the stage for a necessary follow-up study that looks at Clery Act data in universities that are utilizing background checks in their admissions practices to see if there is a measureable impact on their Clery campus crime statistics.

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