A recent announcement the White House about the launch of the Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge in partnership with a number of universities discusses the desire to give people with criminal records a second chance for college enrollment. The goal would be to have colleges not look at criminal records in every selection case.
There are always two sides of every argument. There is some risk that universities face if a person with a criminal past risks or threatens other students or teachers. However, this may not be the majority of cases when the crimes are small, subjective, non-violent and often culturally based.
The three reasons why I think this is a positive movement is because of labor capital, the right to learn, and the need for criminal justice reform. Where 1/3 of working adults have a criminal record means we are doing something wrong.
Labor Capital: When people are blocked from entering the job market due to a previous crime they are lost to potential employers. Not all people who have gotten in trouble at one point or another are dumb, incapable of helping society, or unskilled. With proper education they can become capable members of society that can contribute to the economy. Incarceration diverts resources and lost labor doesn't allow us to recover that cost.
Right to Learn: While higher education is not a right, the right to learn cannot be taken away from anyone. Higher education is about developing the person and developing their abilities. Helping people gain skills and moving them out of poor environments can make a difference. I would have a hard time denying someone a book and an opportunity.
Criminal Justice Reform: While we respect the officers who risk their lives and do the right thing we do know the system isn't always accurate, some officers do manipulate, false testimonies, convictions based on narrow or false evidence, re-victimization of victims, and socio-economic targeting do occur. Until these problems are fixed some people may not deserve to be prosecuted and then have their higher education opportunities stripped.