Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Making College Safety a Factor in Decision Making

With National College Decision Day (May 1st), just around the corner, many students along with their parents are making the difficult decision on which college to attend in the fall. What factors play a role in this decision? For students it might be the academic reputation of the school, employment opportunities after graduation, and financial assistance. But what about campus safety? Can this also be a factor in the college decision?

Finding information on campus safety is easier than you’d expect. College campuses that receive Title IV funding from the Department of Education must comply with the Clery Act by collecting and publishing the last three years of their campus crime statistics as well as developing and implementing security policies for a safe campus. Statistics for each college and university are available to view on the Department of Education’s website.

sexual assault awareness month ribbon

With April designated National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month by President Obama, it reminds us that college-age women are at the greatest risk of an attempted or completed rape. While these statistics about sexual assaults should be captured accurately, some assaults remain unreported or misclassified. When that information is inaccurate, it leads to a false sense of personal security.  And while there are many factors that could be contributing to underreporting, it can be exacerbated by a campus culture that is still adjusting to Federal regulation regarding Clery reportable crimes.

The Department of Education believes school safety is a requirement to ensure students have access to education free from harm. The Department enforces colleges’ compliance through program reviews conducted by Federal Student Aid’s Clery Act Compliance Division and investigations by the Office of Civil Rights.  If Clery violations are found, the Department makes findings which the school must address and correct, in addition to potential financial penalties for those infractions.

Parents and students can investigate the reported safety of the campus not only through the Department’s website, but also by reviewing the college’s annual security report located on the college’s website.  Through program reviews and additional assistance, the Department is working with colleges and universities to improve reporting procedures and campus awareness about the prevalence of sexual assault.  Together, we are working to create a campus culture that is more supportive and safe for students.

Lauren Bloom is a budget analyst in Budget Service within the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development and works on the Student Aid Administration account.