Nov 30, 2012

Assessing Campus Crime

UCLA Westwood Campus
Last week, Business Insider touched off a firestorm of controversy by publishing a list of the 25 “most dangerous colleges in America,” based on crime information reported by the FBI.  Full-color slide shows immediately appeared on Huffington Post and the campuses named—particularly those in Los Angeles—took offense and defended their locations.

Basically, the colleges that complained pointed out that FBI crime data was an unfair measure of campus safety because some colleges report crimes on neighboring non-campus areas, and most colleges simply don’t participate in the FBI survey.

UCLA, which came out on top of the Business Insider list, pointed out that its police officers include crime in reports about clinics and other facilities located in dangerous neighborhoods throughout the city.  The Westwood campus, where most UCLA students live and attend class, has relatively low crime rates.

“The schools that complained, including UCLA, demanded that we rank college crime instead by data compiled through the Clery Act, which can be sorted to count only crimes that occur on campus,” said Gus Lubin, deputy editor at Business Insider.  “Although looking only at crimes that occur on campus seems like a strangely limited perspective—students do, occasionally, venture off campus—we agreed to crunch the numbers based on this report.”

Based on the alternative methodology, the new list contains many of the same schools as the original, although the time frame studied dropped back from 2008-11 to 2007-09.  UCLA appears on both lists.

Interestingly, no colleges or universities in Maryland, DC, or Virginia appear in the FBI list.  The Clery list, however, contains Howard (1), University of Maryland—College Park (17), and the University of Virginia (24). 

But more importantly, the controversy surfaces interesting questions about how prospective students and families can assess campus crime. 

For some scary late-night reading, the FBI produced a report entitled Campus Attacks in April of 2010.  Or you can go directly to the source and search the uniform crime reports (UCR) data base for “offenses known to law enforcement,” by university and college.  The spreadsheet is sorted by state and contains data from 2011.

The information collected by the Department of Education as required by the Clery Act may be found by using the Campus Safety and Security Data Analysis Cutting Tool.  This website is linked to the Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid site and the National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator Site. 

The FBI statistics and those reported to the Department of Education don’t exactly match because the terms and data submission rules differ significantly.  If you use either source, be sure to look carefully at definitions. 

And be aware that there is no guaranteeing the accuracy of either source as they are both subject to the all-too-familiar data reporting issues found in the Common Data Set and other college data collection projects.

In the meantime, Business Insider stands behind its original list of most dangerous colleges based on FBI crime data.  Here are the top 15 from both lists:

The Most Dangerous Colleges based on FBI Data (2008-11)

  1. UCLA
  2. UC Berkeley
  3. Duke University
  4. Florida A&M University
  5. Vanderbilt University
  6. San Diego State University
  7. University of New Mexico
  8. University of Southern Alabama
  9. Louisiana State University—Baton Rouge
  10. Georgia Tech
  11. Ball State University
  12. Indiana State University
  13. University of Cincinnati
  14. Southern Illinois University—Carbondale
  15. MIT

The Most Dangerous Colleges based on Clery Act Campus Crimes (2007-09)

  1. Howard University
  2. University of Rochester
  3. Vanderbilt University
  4. Stanford University
  5. Bluegrass Community and Technical College
  6. Yale University
  7. Morehead State University
  8. Syracuse University
  9. Tufts University
  10. UC Berkeley
  11. Boston College
  12. Ohio State University—Main Campus
  13. SUNY at Buffalo
  14. Duke University
  15. Harvard

For both complete lists and a more detailed explanation of methodology, visit the Business Insider website.

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