Every year, over 1 million aspiring college students apply using the Common Application. On Friday, the organization announced the form had been given a significant refresh for the 2021-2022 academic year, including "updated questions and tools designed to both expand access and facilitate a more equitable, inclusive college application process."
One of the biggest changes that will take effect this year: Students will no longer be required to report whether they've been cited for a disciplinary violation at school.
The change was announced in Sept. 2020 but officially goes into effect on Aug. 1.
"We want all students to feel supported by Common App regardless of where they are on their path to education attainment," says Jenny Rickard, president and CEO of Common App, in a statement. "This is about providing the tools and resources needed to meet more students where they are and help them navigate the path to and through college.
"Our hope is that the incremental changes we've made on the application this year will be a critical step in our collective effort to reduce barriers for students of color and those from low-income backgrounds."
Rickard says eliminating questions about disciplinary records is a key part of achieving these goals.
"We want our application to allow students to highlight their full potential. Requiring students to disclose disciplinary actions has a clear and profound adverse impact on students of color, particularly Black and LatinX students," she tells CNBC Make It. "Removing this question is the first step in a longer process to make college admissions more equitable."
There is a significant body of research that suggests Black students are disproportionately disciplined at school.
For every 100 students enrolled, Black students lost 103 days of class due to out-of-school suspensions while white students lost just 21 days, on average, a 2020 report from the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the UCLA Civil Rights Project and the Learning Policy Institute found.
The Brookings Institution estimates that while Black students make up 16% of K-12 students, they account for 40% of suspensions nationally.
And researchers from Brown University have concluded different treatment from teachers accounts for roughly half of the Black/white racial gap in-school suspensions and expulsions.
In a 2019 paper published in the National Bureau of Economic Research, researchers from Harvard University and the University of Colorado–Boulder found that middle school students assigned to schools with higher suspension rates are 15% to 20% more likely to be arrested and incarcerated as adults — and are also less likely to attend a four-year college.
No longer asking students to report if they have been disciplined at school "is about taking a stand against practices that suppress college-going aspiration and overshadow potential," says Rickard.