Background Hiring Investigations on College Students

by Eric S. Snow, Instructor of Criminal Justice, Radford University, E-mail:

            One of the most important administrative functions of law enforcement and corrections agencies is the hiring process.  Given the authority entrusted in these individuals, agencies should strive to hire individuals of high moral character who fully understand the significance of their role.  Due to the nature of the profession, law enforcement and corrections hiring processes are obviously significantly longer and more in-depth than other careers.  Many non-law enforcement hiring processes involve a simple records check for certain offenses, but not a full background investigation.

            The role of the background investigator is to be a neutral seeker of facts related to the candidate’s abilities and appropriateness to perform the job.  When conducting a background investigation for hiring, I used to tell candidates, “My job isn’t to prove you are a good candidate.  My job is to prove you aren’t a good candidate and if I can’t do that, you’ll pass the background”.  Similar statements are likely used by investigators in all levels of law enforcement and corrections hiring processes.  While these statements may sound adversarial, especially for someone who will be a future colleague if hired, it emphasizes the importance of the background investigation.

            As university faculty members, we are frequently contacted by investigators conducting background investigations on our students.  For me, this process can be fruitful if I’ve had a particular student in class recently, if I’ve had them in multiple classes, or if they’ve stood out from the other students.  Typically, I find the top ten percent and bottom ten percent of students in a class stand out from the rest, for obviously different reasons, but most do not separate themselves from the group.  Based on these factors, and the fact that I often have small class sizes based on the courses I teach, I instruct a rather small percentage of our approximately 600 students, so the meaningful information I can provide to a background investigator is fairly limited.

Campus Offices

             As part of the background investigation process, investigators should contact a college’s or university’s Dean of Students and/or Student Conduct offices.  According to the Radford University website, “The Office of the Dean of Students responds to the informational and personal concerns of students and oversees the protection of student rights. The office plays a major role in promoting and upholding the shared values and ideals of the Radford University community.”  Among the areas covered by the Office of the Dean of Students are “behavior concerns of students, obtaining a medical withdrawl, and food insecurity or needing shelter”.[1]  These topics may not be self-reported by the applicant, but might have impacted them, and their grades, during their time in college.

            Radford University’s website states, “The Office of Student Standards and Conduct strives to protect the rights of all students; both students going through our conduct process, and those impacted by the actions of other students. We focus on holding students accountable, and helping students advocate for their own future success.”[2]  The Office of Student Standards and Conduct handles academic integrity issues related to student cheating, lying, plagiarizing, and causing a disruption in class, among other issues.  They are responsible for conducting hearings for these conduct violations and maintain records associated with them.

            Records from these offices can be beneficial to background investigators.  For example, our Criminal Justice majors are required to complete 120 credit hours (approximately 40 classes) to earn a bachelor’s degree, but only 36 credits (12 classes) are required to be criminal justice classes.  The remaining classes are core classes (math, science, history, writing) or courses closely associated with criminal justice, but taught outside the department (political science, psychology, sociology).[3]  Since approximately 75% of the classes required of a student are outside the department, faculty members and the department chair are unlikely to be aware of academic integrity violations in these courses, but all reported violations are handled and recorded by the Office of Student Standards and Conduct.

Student Privacy

            The policy governing student privacy in academic settings is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).  FERPA is “a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education.”[4]  The law allows students and parents to view records related to the students, but more importantly, it restricts what information about a student can be released without written permission from the student.  Generally, directory information, such as a student’s name, date of birth, address, major, and field of study, are releasable under FERPA, but student grades, class attendance records, or academic integrity violations are not disclosed to the general public.  Background investigators may obtain the information with a signed records release.  Examples of records releases can be found at


[1] Office of the Dean of Students, Radford University.

[2] Office of Student Standards and Conduct, Radford University.

[3] Radford University 2018-2019 Undergraduate Catalog listing for Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice requirements,

[4] US Department of Education, Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA),