How Safe Is Your College Campus, Really?

Safety should be a top priority for students and parents researching postsecondary options. Unfortunately, with all of the factors prospective college students must consider, campus safety may not draw adequate scrutiny. Here are a few ways to find out if a school is as safe as it claims to be.

By Douglas Fehlen

campus safety tips

1. Know your school's security services.

Find out where your school's emergency call boxes are located, if they are available. Many colleges also offer 24-hour security escorts between campus locations. Check to see if your school provides this support and, if so, program the applicable campus security number into your phone for quick access to the service. You may also be encouraged to inform campus security when you are alone in a classroom or laboratory outside of regular school hours. Check your school's campus security website for details on offered services.

2. Look up campus crime statistics at The Campus Safety and Security Data Analysis Cutting Tool website.

All postsecondary institutions that receive federal student aid are required to annually report their crime statistics. The Office of Postsecondary Education of the U.S. Department of Education makes this information publicly available at its website. When researching schools, remember that these statistics provide but a snapshot of the school safety picture on campus. Your school can provide details on criminal reporting procedures, which may help to better interpret statistics.

3. Sign up for your school's emergency communications system service.

Many schools offer a free emergency communications system to students who sign up. Students who participate in this service typically receive notifications about on-campus security measures and precautions. Updates are sent to students immediately by email and/or text message. Many schools administer their emergency response efforts via this communication system, so it's a very good idea to sign up. Consult your school's campus security website to see if the service is available to you.

4. Do some online sleuthing.

Perform a Google search on your college, seeing what kind of campus security issues pop up in local and national news. Find out what kinds of crimes commonly occur on campus, and be aware of any situations in which security services at your school came under scrutiny. Learn about high-profile incidents and how they were handled. The school's newspaper will probably have an opinion on controversial situations. This basic search can yield important safety information.

5. Know the area that surrounds your campus.

You likely won't be spending all of your time on campus, so it's important to be aware of any safety issues in the neighborhood or town that borders your school. Research the area's safety record by checking publicly available crime statistics. Campus security may notify students about incidents that occur off campus, but you may not necessarily be able to rely on that to learn about all concerning incidents. It's a good idea, then, to read the local news to keep yourself up to date on what's going on around you.

6. Ask around.

Sometimes other students have the best perspectives on a school's safety. Don't be afraid to ask questions like the following: How long does it take a security officer to get to you when you call for an escort? Do you feel safe in the dorms? Are there any dangerous places on campus? Talking with others and getting a variety of opinions is a great way to get a feel for campus security issues. While checking in with peers or faculty members employed by your school is a good idea, also get information from students without potential bias for an unvarnished look at campus safety.

7. Find out more about the people protecting you.

See if your campus works with local law enforcement, and check if the security force is a member of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA). Schools with these relationships typically have a strong commitment to school safety. Find out the size of the security team and how frequently members meet to discuss campus safety issues. School security procedures and services should be transparent and easy to find. If information is not available online, your school should provide information you request.

8. Learn more about living on campus.

If you're staying in a residence hall on campus, scrutinize the security of common entrances. Do you need to be electronically verified by your student I.D. to enter? Are the doors always locked? Is an entrance often propped open? Find out how often security officers perform checks of your building. Look at how accessible the evacuation routes are from your dorm room, and be sure to verify fire alarms are installed nearby and checked frequently.

9. Notice the little things.

Observe damaged locks on doors or windows. Pay attention to burnt-out light bulbs in stairwells, hallways or outdoor areas. Gauge the presence security officers have at your school. Find the locations of 24-hour security facilities on campus and see how responsive staff members are to students. Although it may seem strange, these little measurements of campus life can significantly affect overall safety. Report any concerning information to your school's administration.

10. Find out if campus security works with student organizations.

Partnering with student organizations shows a commitment to the needs of the community. A school that is truly committed to the safety of its students will feature security services that work closely with student groups - particularly those made up of individuals who are commonly targeted for violence or other forms of mistreatment. Security teams often work with students from LGBT advocacy associations, multicultural organizations and other groups. Campus security should also be a calming presence at student events.

Want more information on feeling comfortable at college? Learn 10 tips for living on campus.

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