Background Checks


Every once in a while, a college or university registrar, particularly at private institutions, will refuse to confirm or deny whether or not a candidate for employment earned a degree claimed from their institution.  The claim is they’re protecting the former student’s privacy.  This has always struck me as a nonsensical policy.  It’s not as though anyone is trying to get the school to release the student’s most confidential information, just to confirm or refute that a candidate for employment earned the degree claimed.  It’s particularly absurd when the candidate has happily supplied the prospective employer all the identifiers needed to make the request, usually the full name under which the candidate attended, a Social Security number, date of birth, year of graduation, academic discipline, and type of degree, i.e. bachelors, masters, or doctoral degree.  It’s not as though the prospective employer is trying to obtain personal information for some nefarious purpose – the employer already has all that information!  All that’s needed is a simple, “Yes, he has the degree claimed,” or, “No, he didn’t graduate from our institution.”

For employers who have run into this problem, here’s an insider’s tip on how to get around reluctant or recalcitrant registrars: Call the school’s alumni office and ask them to confirm the degree claimed!  One of the functions of any college or university alumni office is to help their graduates find employment.  When the registrar won’t cooperate, normally the alumni office will.  As most college graduates know, nearly every institution of higher learning in the land publishes an alumni directory.  All that’s required of the alumni office is simply looking up the name of the candidate in the latest alumni directory to confirm that he or she is telling the truth.

I’m reminded of one eastern school’s registrar rather smugly telling us that they would neither confirm nor deny that the candidate in question had even attended their institution.  So our associate said, “So, what you’re telling me is I can claim to have a degree from your university, even though I’ve never even been on your campus, and you won’t confirm or deny my claim of having earned a degree there?”  The reply was, “Ah, well, ah, (gulp), I guess that’s right…”

Protecting confidential information is obviously an important responsibility; but, when the request only requires a simple “yes” or “no” response, refusing to confirm a degree is, well, plain silly.  If I were a job seeker, a “no comment” policy like that goes well beyond “silly” when the refusal to simply confirm a degree claimed could mean the difference between being hired or not.