Changes Seek to Make College Crime Data Easier to Use

June 10, 2014

To help families, students, and institutional researchers more easily obtain data about campus safety and crime, the federal government is making those statistics available in a new way.

A summary of safety and security data for colleges is included for the first time in an annual report, "Indicators of School Crime and Safety," that had previously covered only elementary and secondary schools. The latest version of the report is being released on Tuesday.

In addition, the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics is releasing on YouTube, and promoting on Twitter, a video that explains the college portion of the report.

The video begins with the fact that reported crimes on campuses decreased 27 percent from 2001 to 2011. Many other facts like it are simply presented, though, as the report gives no context that might help explain why the numbers changed from year to year. For instance, the video notes that the number of forcible sex crimes reported by colleges increased 52 percent from 2001 to 2011, but it does not mention that recent activism and federal guidance regarding sexual assault on campuses may have increased the reporting of such sexual offenses.

"In general, we are trying to make the information more accessible," said Thomas D. Snyder, a project officer at the National Center for Education Statistics, which is the department’s statistical arm. "The video enables people to access the information from a variety of platforms, including mobile devices."

Research has found students and families don’t necessarily read through the data that the Clery Act requires colleges to disclose about crimes on or near their campuses.

Data in the report were already available through the department’s Campus Safety and Security Data Analysis Cutting Tool, which includes all data required by the Clery Act, and the College Navigator, an online college-comparison tool that extracts data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

Both of those tools, however, are more useful for comparing individual colleges’ crime rates. The new report reformats the data so institutional researchers, parents, and students can compare their college’s crime rates to national averages.

"Now students can put in a framework nationally whether their school has more or less crime," Mr. Snyder said. "I think it can help the general public and prospective students put things into perspective."

First released in 1998, the annual "Indicators of School Crime and Safety" report was created by the Education Department’s statistical center and the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The report organizes statistics about specific crimes under subheadings labeled "indicators." Under a new category, "Postsecondary Campus Safety and Security," is Indicator 22, with data about incidents at colleges.

Indicator 22, which Mr. Snyder says will become a permanent part of the report, breaks down the data into the total number of incidents that occurred per year and the number of incidents that occurred per 10,000 full-time-equivalent students from 2001 to 2011. The report also breaks down the data by institution type.