Caucasian male stares at computer screen and educator next to him points out at the screen. Education ex-offender.

Higher Education for Ex-Offenders: Thinking Beyond the Box

We believe in second chances. We have to give people who have paid their debt to society a fair shot at college and careers. Together we can make that a reality.John B. King, former Secretary of Education

Beyond the Box: A Resource Guide

Beyond the Box is a valuable resource for people who help ex-offenders effectively transition back into our communities. The U.S. Department of Education created this guide for college and university professionals, as well for other professionals who work with ex-offenders.

It offers:

  • Information to remove unnecessary barriers to higher education for people with criminal records
  • Recommendations for how to modify admissions policies and practices to support a more holistic review of applicants
  • Resources on how to support ex-offenders after enrollment

Education Supports Transition Back into Society

Research shows that education can help people with criminal records successfully transition out of prison and into the classroom or the workforce. Education reduces the likelihood of return to prison within three years by more than 40 percent. Successful reintegration into society benefits individuals, their families, and our communities.

Getting an Education Isn’t Easy with a Criminal Record

The importance of education in getting a job can’t be over-stated. And yet getting an education is particularly challenging for ex-offenders. According to the U.S. Department of Education:

An estimated
Million Americans

have been involved in the criminal justice system through either an arrest or conviction. That’s one out of three adults.

66 percent of postsecondary institutions collect criminal justice information for all prospective students.

Research suggests that colleges and universities that admit students with a criminal justice history have no greater crime than those that do not.


of individuals with a felony criminal offense record seeking higher education at the State University of New York stopped the application process after being asked about criminal justice involvement.

Disparities in the criminal justice system, ranging from arrests to sentencing decisions, disproportionately impact individuals of color, and, in turn, disproportionately require students of color to respond to questions about criminal history.

Learn More

Access this research by visiting the Project E3 Resource Library.
Citation: U.S. Department of Education, Beyond the Box, Washington, D.C. 2016.

Questions? Feedback?

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