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

Background

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. It 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. Final regulations for the law were published by the U.S. Department of Education in April 1994, with technical amendments published in June 1995. Under the Act, by September 1 of each year institutions must publish and distribute to current and prospective students and employees an annual security report that includes

  • Statistics concerning the occurrence on campus of certain criminal offenses reported to campus officials; and
  • Statements about campus law enforcement policies, campus security education and prevention programs, alcohol and drug policies, sexual assault education and prevention programs, procedures for reporting sexual assaults, and procedures for handling reports of sexual assault.

The Act also requires institutions to provide a timely warning to the campus community about crimes that are considered to represent a continuing threat to students and employees. This warning must be done in a manner that will aid in the prevention of similar crimes. 2

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 about campus crime statistics, annual security reports compiled by institutions, and campus security procedures and programs. This is the first time such information has been gathered 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 by the National Center for Education Statistics using the Postsecondary Education Quick Information System (PEQIS). PEQIS is designed to collect limited amounts of policy-relevant information on a quick-turnaround basis from a previously recruited, nationally representative sample of postsecondary institutions. PEQIS surveys are generally limited to two to three pages of questions with a response burden of 30 minutes per respondent. 3 The survey was mailed to the PEQIS survey coordinators at 1,017 2-year and 4-year postsecondary institutions in the PEQIS panel, and to the chief executive officer (CEO) at a supplementary sample of 505 less-than-2-year postsecondary institutions, for a total sample of 1,522 institutions. Coordinators and CEOs were told that the survey was designed to be completed by the person at the institution most knowledgeable about the institution's security procedures and crime statistics.

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 institutions that participate in federal Title IV programs and the enrollments of students at those institutions vary widely (see Table 1). 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. Similarly, while 40 percent of 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.

Key Features of the Campus Security Act

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 regulations 4 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. The Campus Security Act also specifies that institutions are to compile their crime statistics in accordance with the definitions used in the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting Program. These FBI definitions are provided in the text of the final regulations and are shown in this report in appendix A. The following institutional characteristics, discussed in more detail in the methodology section of this report, were used as variables for analyzing the survey data:

  • Type of institution: for-profit less-than-2-year, other less-than-2-year, public 2-year, private 2-year, public 4-year, private 4-year.
  • Percent of students in campus housing: no campus housing, less than 25 percent, 25 percent or more.
  • Metropolitan status: large city, mid-size city, urban fringe, town or rural.

Analysis Variables and Characteristics of Institutions

The following institutional characteristics, discussed in more detail in the methodology section of this report, were used as variables for analyzing the survey data:

  • Type of institution: for-profit less-than-2-year, other less-than-2-year, public 2-year, private 2-year, public 4-year, private 4-year.
  • Percent of students in campus housing: no campus housing, less than 25 percent, 25 percent or more.
  • Metropolitan status: large city, mid-size city, urban fringe, town or rural.
  • Institutional size (enrollment): less than 200 students, 200 to 999 students, 1,000 to 2,999 students, 3,000 to 9,999 students, 10,000 or more students.

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.5 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.

About a third of institutions have some campus housing, including dormitories, on-campus fraternities and sororities, and institution provided apartments (Table 2). The extent to which institutions have any campus housing and the proportion of students living in campus housing varies substantially, particularly by institutional type. For example, while very few less-than-2-year institutions have any campus housing, about a quarter of 2-year and about 80 percent of 4-year institutions have some campus housing. However, for both 2-year and 4-year institutions that have any campus housing, private institutions are more residential in nature than public institutions. Thus, public 2- year institutions with campus housing have an average of 13 percent of students residing in campus housing, while private 2-year institutions with campus housing have an average of 31 percent in campus housing; public 4-year institutions with campus housing have an average of 26 percent of students living in campus housing, compared with an average of 52 percent of students in campus housing at private 4-year institutions with campus housing.

Overall, few institutions (5 percent) have any off-campus fraternities and sororities with residences (not shown in tables). However, this varies substantially by institutional type. While no less-than-2-year or 2-year institutions (as estimated by this sample) have off-campus fraternities or sororities, 6 percent of private 4-year and 42 percent of public 4-year institutions have off-campus fraternities or sororities with residences.

Statistical Information

The unweighted survey response rate was 93 percent (the weighted survey response rate was 94 percent). Data were adjusted for questionnaire nonresponse and weighted to provide national estimates. The section of this report on survey methodology and data reliability provides a more detailed discussion of the sample and survey methodology. The survey questionnaire is reproduced in appendix C.

All specific statements of comparison made in this report have been tested for statistical significance through regression analysis or chisquare tests and t-tests adjusted for multiple comparisons using the Bonferroni adjustment and are significant at the 95 percent confidence level or better. However, not all statistically significantly different comparisons have been presented, since some were not of substantive importance.


2 Information excerpted from the testimony of David A. Longanecker, Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education, to the Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education, Training, and Life- Long Learning on June 6, 1996, and from the Federal Register, April 24, 1994, Vol. 59, No. 82.

3 Additional information about PEQIS is presented in the methodology section of this report.

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

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