Colleges consider barring students for health, safety risks

Posted September 16, 2010 5:40 p.m. EDT
Updated September 16, 2010 6:48 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina's community colleges are known for their open enrollment, but safety concerns are driving a new admissions proposal that could limit that.

The plan would allow the state's 58 two-year colleges to deny admission if a potential student poses a health or safety risk. College officials said Thursday that there isn't a specific violent incident or health scare on a campus that prompted the idea, but they said that the colleges are growing rapidly and that security is always a concern.

"We need to protect our students," said Stephen Scott, president of Wake Technical Community College.

In April 2007, a student with mental problems gunned down 32 people on the campus of Virginia Tech before killing himself, and Scott said the safety issue still resonates with college administrators.

Close to 70,000 students are expected to take classes at Wake Tech this year, and more than 150 security cameras keep watch over the college's six campuses.

A proposal under consideration by the State Board of Community Colleges could give college officials more leeway to deny admission to students who pose a health or safety threat, such as an applicant with an outstanding restraining order taken out by a student or someone with a dangerous communicable disease.

"This may open the door for the possibility of a health background check," Scott said, adding that colleges need to craft an admissions plan that balances safety with confidentiality.

The American Civil Liberties Union argues that any admissions screening must require detailed reasoning and review.

"The way it's written right now, it seems very broad and vague. There are no real standards included in it, so it seems like it could be used in a very arbitrary way," said Sarah Preston, legislative counsel for the North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "It raises some red flags as far as privacy and how they're getting information."

The University of North Carolina system has more stringent admissions policies than community colleges, but they don't include possible health or safety threats.

Scott Ralls, president of the state Community College System, acknowledged there is sensitivity about limiting open enrollment.

"These are the kind of difficult issues we'll have to deal with, but, again, the motivation for this is making sure that our campuses are secure," Ralls said.