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Campus Crime and Security at Postsecondary Education Institutions
NCES 97402
February 1997

Executive Summary

In the 1980s, concern grew about crime and security at the nation's postsecondary institutions. Such institutions traditionally had been considered to be safe havens where students could focus on their studies. However, a number of high profile violent crimes on college campuses changed that perception. Such concerns led Congress to pass legislation regarding campus security and crime reporting at postsecondary institutions.

The Student Right-to-Know and Campus Security Act (Public Law 101-542) was signed into law in November 1990 and amended several times in subsequent years. Title II of this Act is known as the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1990. This Act requires institutions participating in the student financial aid programs under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 to disclose information about campus safety policies and procedures and to provide statistics concerning whether certain crimes took place on campus.

In addition, the Act requires the Secretary of Education to make a onetime report to Congress on campus crime statistics. To provide information for the Secretary's report, the Office of Postsecondary Education and the National Institute on Postsecondary Education, Libraries, and Lifelong Learning, U.S. Department of Education, requested that the National Center for Education Statistics conduct a survey on campus crime and security at postsecondary education institutions. The survey collected information from institutions about campus crime statistics for 1992, 1993, and 1994; annual security reports compiled by institutions; and campus security procedures and programs. This survey was the first attempt to gather such information from a nationally representative sample of postsecondary institutions. The results of this survey provide the first national estimates about campus crime and security and allow comparisons to be made between various kinds of institutions.

The survey was conducted in spring 1996 using the Postsecondary Education Quick Information System (PEQIS). The survey included public, private nonprofit, and private for-profit postsecondary education institutions at all levels (less-than-2-year, 2-year, and 4- year, including graduate-level) that participate in federal Title IV financial aid programs, since these are the institutions to which the Campus Security Act applies. This very diverse group of institutions includes universities, baccalaureate colleges, 2-year and community colleges, graduate and professional schools (including law, medical, and clinical psychology schools), trade and technical schools, nursing and allied health schools, Bible colleges and seminaries, and other postsecondary schools such as cosmetology and business schools. About a third of the postsecondary institutions to which the Campus Security Act applies are for-profit less-than-2-year institutions. This group of institutions includes many cosmetology schools, vocational technical institutes, business and computer processing schools, and health careers schools (e.g., vocational and practical nursing, x-ray technology, and training for medical and dental assistants). These institutions, most of which enroll fewer than 200 students, are very different from traditional colleges and universities. It is therefore important to keep in mind the diverse nature of the postsecondary institutions covered by the Campus Security Act (and thus included in this PEQIS survey) when interpreting the survey results.

The distributions of postsecondary institutions that participate in federal Title IV programs and the enrollments of students at those institutions vary widely. Although for-profit less-than-2-year institutions account for 31 percent of institutions that participate in Title IV, they enroll 2 percent of the students. The largest proportions of students attend public 4-year (40 percent of students) and public 2- year institutions (36 percent of students), although these institutions account for 9 percent and 18 percent, respectively, of institutions that participate in Title IV. Private 4-year institutions account for 23 percent of institutions, and enroll 19 percent of the students. Similarly, while 40 percent of postsecondary institutions that participate in Title IV have enrollments of less than 200 students and an additional 24 percent of institutions enroll 200-999 students, half of the postsecondary students in Title IV institutions attend institutions that enroll 10,000 or more students and an additional 31 percent of students attend institutions that enroll 3,000 to 9,999 students. Thus, while most institutions are small, most students attend large institutions. Campus housing shows a similar pattern: while 66 percent of institutions that participate in Title IV do not have any campus housing, 60 percent of students in Title IV institutions attend institutions that have some campus housing.

These relationships between institutional characteristics and enrollment have important implications for the interpretation of the survey results. This PEQIS survey was directed to institutions, and the results are thus presented as institution-level information (e.g., the percentage of institutions with a particular campus security service or program). However, because of the differences in the distributions of institutions and enrollments by institutional characteristics, the institution-level information does not represent the number of students affected. Occasionally, student information is provided to put the institutional data in context, but since the survey was directed to institutions, not students, institutions are the appropriate reference for the survey results.

Moreover, it is important to understand that the analysis variables of institutional type and size, and percentage of students in campus housing are related to each other. For example, 99 percent of for profit less-than-2-year institutions do not have campus housing, and 84 percent of these institutions enroll less than 200 students; 80 percent of public 4-year institutions have campus housing, and 76 percent of these institutions enroll 3,000 or more students. Because of these relationships, differences on survey items tend to covary by these analysis variables.

The presence of campus housing also may be related to campus crime rates. For example, students who reside in campus housing are potential victims of on-campus crime 24 hours a day. These students have a different risk pattern than students who commute to campus for a few hours a week.

It is also important to remember that the crime statistics reported are for occurrences of crime on campus (whether the victims were students, staff, or campus visitors), and do not include crimes committed against students at off-campus locations. The final regulations1 define a campus as follows. A campus is (1) any building or property owned or controlled by an institution within the same reasonably contiguous geographic area and used by the institution in direct support of, or in a manner related to, the institution's educational purposes; (2) any building or property owned or controlled by a student organization recognized by the institution; or (3) any building or property controlled by the institution, but owned by a third party.

It should also be noted that the crime statistics only reflect crimes that were reported. The Campus Security Act requires institutions to report statistics for specified on-campus crimes that were reported to local police agencies or to any official of the institution with significant responsibility for student and campus activities. Other crimes may have occurred on campus, but gone unreported. For example, forcible sex offenses are widely considered to be vastly underreported crimes, both in the community and on campuses.

Campus Crime Statistics

The Campus Security Act requires postsecondary institutions to report about the occurrence on campus of various crimes. Violent crimes (murder, forcible sex offenses, robbery, or aggravated assault) were reported by about a quarter of the institutions in each of the 3 years (1992, 1993, 1994). For 1994, less than 0.5 percent reported a murder on campus, 9 percent reported incidents of forcible sex offenses, 12 percent reported robbery, and 18 percent reported aggravated assault. Property crimes (which here includes only burglary and motor vehicle theft, since these are the only property crimes the Act requires institutions to report) were reported by about two-fifths of the institutions in each of the 3 years. According to 1994 statistics, 37 percent had experienced burglary on campus, while 23 percent reported at least one motor vehicle theft. The percentage of institutions reporting occurrences of violent and property crimes varied greatly by institutional type, whether the institution had campus housing, and the size of the institution. Public 4-year institutions, those with campus housing, and larger institutions were more likely to report occurrences of both violent and property crimes than were other types of institutions, those without campus housing, and smaller institutions. For example, one or more violent crimes were reported by 78 percent of public 4-year institutions, about half of institutions with campus housing, and 84 percent of institutions with 10,000 or more students, compared with 3 percent of for-profit less-than-2-year institutions, 12 percent of institutions without campus housing, and 7 percent of institutions with less than 200 students. Similarly, property crimes were reported by 84 percent of public 4-year institutions, twothirds to three-quarters of institutions with campus housing, and 96 percent of institutions with 10,000 or more students, compared with 14 percent of for-profit less-than-2-year institutions, 30 percent of institutions without campus housing, and 18 percent of institutions with less than 200 students.

During each of the 3 years, institutions reported a total of about 10,000 violent crimes and almost 40,000 property crimes. For 1994, the individual crime composition for violent crimes was about 20 murders, about 1,300 forcible sex offenses, 3,100 robberies, and 5,100 cases of aggravated assault. In the property crime category, institutions reported 28,800 burglaries and 9,000 motor vehicle thefts in 1994.

To put the crime numbers into context, they were converted to crime rates per 1,000 students. In 1994, the overall violent crime rate was 0.65 per 1,000 students, with individual rates of 0.001 per 1,000 for murder, 0.09 per 1,000 for forcible sex offenses, 0.21 per 1,000 for robbery, and 0.35 per 1,000 for aggravated assault. Property crime rates were 2.57 per 1,000 in 1994--1.96 per 1,000 for burglary and 0.61 per 1,000 for motor vehicle theft. Crime rates for both violent and property crimes increased as the amount of campus housing increased (from no campus housing through less than 25 percent in campus housing to 25 percent or more students living in campus housing); violent and property crime rates also tended to be higher in smaller institutions compared with larger ones. For example, the overall violent crime rate in 1994 was 0.29 per 1,000 students at institutions without campus housing compared with 1.13 per 1,000 at institutions with 25 percent or more of students in campus housing. By institutional size, the violent crime rate was 2.37 per 1,000 at institutions with less than 200 students compared with 0.53 per 1,000 at institutions with 10,000 or more students.

On-campus arrests for liquor law violations, drug abuse violations, and weapons possessions were reported by about 10 percent of the institutions in each of the 3 years. Public 4-year institutions, those with campus housing, and larger institutions were more likely to report arrests for all three crimes than were other types of institutions, those without campus housing, and smaller institutions. For example, arrests for liquor law violations in 1994 were reported by 63 percent of public 4-year institutions, a third of institutions with campus housing, and 56 percent of institutions with 10,000 or more students, compared with less than 0.5 percent of for-profit less-than-2-year institutions, 3 percent of institutions without campus housing, and 1 percent of institutions with less than 200 students.

On-campus arrests for liquor law violations were much more common than for drug abuse violations or weapons possessions. In 1994, institutions reported about 20,400 arrests for liquor law violations, about 7,200 arrests for drug abuse violations, and about 2,000 arrests for weapons possessions. To put the number of on-campus arrests into context, they were converted into arrest rates per 1,000 students. In 1994, there were an estimated 1.40 on-campus arrests per 1,000 students for liquor law violations, 0.50 arrests per 1,000 students for drug abuse violations, and 0.13 arrests per 1,000 students for weapons possessions. On-campus arrests per 1,000 students for liquor law and drug abuse violations generally were higher for public 4-year than for other types of institutions, and were higher for institutions with more campus housing. For example, 1994 arrests for liquor law violations were 2.84 per 1,000 students at public 4-year institutions compared with 0.03 per 1,000 students at for-profit lessthan- 2-year institutions, and were 0.09 per 1,000 students at institutions without campus housing compared with 3.00 arrests per 1,000 students at institutions with 25 percent or more of students in campus housing.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR)/National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) definitions, which the Campus Security Act specifies are to be used for compiling the crime statistics, were used by 40 percent of the institutions; state crime definitions by 45 percent of institutions; and other definitions by 16 percent of institutions. Use of definitions varied greatly by institutional characteristics. While 83 percent of public 4-year, 61 percent of private 4-year, and 48 percent of public 2-year institutions used the FBI definitions, 24 percent or fewer of the private 2-year and the less-than-2-year institutions used these definitions. About two-thirds of the institutions with campus housing used the FBI definitions, compared with 26 percent of institutions without campus housing. Larger institutions used the FBI definitions more frequently than did smaller institutions. Most institutions that did not use the FBI definitions used state crime definitions instead, although 20 to 28 percent of the private 2-year and the less-than-2- year institutions, institutions with no campus housing, and institutions with less than 200 students used some other set of definitions. Fewer than 10 percent of public 2-year and 4-year and private 4-year institutions, institutions with campus housing, and institutions with 1,000 or more students used some other set of definitions.

The relationship between institutional size and use of the various definitions produces some interesting student-level comparisons. Since most students attend larger institutions (i.e., institutions with 3,000 or more students), about three-quarters (73 percent) of students attended institutions that used the FBI definitions, 24 percent attended institutions that used state crime definitions, and 4 percent attended institutions that used some other set of definitions. Thus, the majority of students attended institutions using the mandated FBI definitions, and most of the remaining students attended institutions using state crime definitions.<

Annual Security Reports

The Campus Security Act requires postsecondary institutions to publish and distribute an annual security report containing information about campus security policies and crime statistics. The report is to be distributed annually to all current students and employees and, upon request, to prospective students and employees. Most institutions (87 percent) compiled an annual campus security report, although the proportion ranged from 64 percent of other less-than-2- year institutions to 98 percent of public 4-year institutions. Larger institutions were more likely than smaller institutions to prepare these annual security reports, ranging from 76 percent of those with less than 200 students to 100 percent of those ith 10,000 or more students. Almost all students (98 percent) attended institutions that compiled annual security reports. The most prevalent method of compiling the report was as a stand-alone publication about campus security, a practice at 70 percent of the institutions that issued annual reports. About half the institutions that issued these reports included the crime information within the body of another student or employee publication, either in addition to, or instead of, the stand-alone publication. One-fifth published security report information in the campus newspaper, 6 percent used an electronic format, and 9 percent used other formats for publishing the information.

Making the security report information available at student orientation, registration, and/or at other student activities was the most prevalent method of disseminating this information (used by 85 percent of the institutions that compile annual security information). About two-thirds of institutions that compile annual security information made the information available in various offices and/or building lobbies around the institution (67 percent), mailed the information on request to prospective students and/or employees (64 percent), or mailed the information on request to current students and/or employees (60 percent). Half of the institutions that have campus housing distributed the information in student residence halls.

Campus Security Procedures and Programs

The Campus Security Act was intended, in part, to encourage postsecondary institutions to put more emphasis on campus safety and on crime prevention services and programs. One way that institutions can work towards the prevention of crime on campus is through services or programs that foster campus safety. About two-thirds of all institutions limit access to academic buildings during nights and weekends (64 percent), give safety presentations to campus groups (64 percent), and publish and post safety reminders on campus (63 percent). Almost half have night-time escort services (48 percent), foot or bicycle patrols by security personnel (46 percent), or emergency phone systems (45 percent). One-third have victim's assistance programs, and 12 percent have night-time shuttle bus or van services. Most institutions with campus housing (90 percent) indicated that they limited access to residence halls. The majority of institutions with these services or programs stated that they had instituted or improved the services in the last 5 years.

The percentage of institutions offering various campus safety services or programs varied by institutional type and size, and the presence of campus housing. The general pattern was that public 4-year institutions most frequently offered the various services or programs, followed by private 4-year and public 2-year institutions. Less-than-2-year institutions tended to offer these programs and services much less frequently than other types of institutions. Institutions with campus housing were more likely to offer the various services or programs than were institutions without campus housing, and larger institutions were more likely than smaller ones to offer the services or programs. For example, foot or bicycle patrols by security personnel were offered by more than 93 percent of public 4-year institutions, 95 percent of institutions with 10,000 or more students, and about 80 percent of institutions with campus housing, compared with 6 percent of for-profit less-than-2-year institutions, 17 percent of institutions with less than 200 students, and 29 percent of institutions without campus housing.

Also, within the last 5 years between half and two-thirds of institutions had increased lighting in various locales--within campus buildings (51 percent) to within parking lots and structures (66 percent). Public and private 4-year and public 2-year institutions generally were more likely to have increased lighting levels than other types of institutions, as were institutions with campus housing and larger institutions compared with those without campus housing and smaller institutions. For example, 96 percent of public 4-year institutions and 94 percent of institutions with 10,000 or more students had improved lighting on campus grounds and walkways, compared with 30 percent of for-profit less-than-2-year institutions and 36 percent of institutions with less than 200 students.

The results of this survey provide the first national estimates about campus crime and security. They allow comparisons to be made between various types of institutions and provide the context for interpreting the campus crime and security information furnished to the public by individual institutions.


1 Federal Register, April 24, 1994, Vol. 59, No. 82.

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