Despite what you may read in the news, college campuses are pretty safe. Incidents of sexual assault and rape garner headlines, but they make universities seem far more dangerous than they really are.
That’s the case made by Alex Contarino, a research assistant at The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, in a recent article published on the think tank’s website:
Though these stories have created a firestorm of public rage, often unnoticed is that American colleges are actually quite safe, with campus crime rates significantly lower than the national crime rate. Even schools in crime-heavy areas—such as Temple University in Philadelphia—find that their campuses are still much safer than the neighborhoods just down the street.
However, amid public scrutiny and federal instruction, colleges have rushed to increase their campus security and spend more money on safety measures. But the payoff for that spending is hard to find, Contarino argues.
He writes “the amount of spending and staff dedicated to campus security reflects this urgency, as both have skyrocketed in recent years”:
For instance, the number of full-time campus law enforcement officers nationwide grew 16 percent between 2005 and 2012, outpacing the 11 percent growth in student enrollment. Additionally, in the past three years two thirds of colleges have increased their public safety budgets. It is estimated that by 2018 campus security spending will exceed $400 million a year.
The increase is partly a result of federal guidelines such as the requirement to disclose campus crime totals as well as the Obama Administration’s 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter regarding sexual assaults on campus, according to Contarino:
Because of this constantly growing set of laws and guidelines, many schools are increasing spending on administrators with no connection to academics. For example, the University of North Carolina system spends $1.52 million on administrators whose sole job is to check-off boxes making sure campuses adhere to the Clery Act.
Elsewhere in the UNC system, campuses are doing anything they can to appear as though they are beefing up security in these supposedly dangerous times. For instance, UNC-Charlotte installed a campus-wide lockdown system for active shooter situations. And its public safety department hired a technician to monitor the school’s 400 hundred security cameras.
As colleges continue bumping up their security budgets, Contarino questions the effectiveness of these measures.
“Expensive campus security initiatives may sound good in a press release, but the evidence that they actually make college students safer is scant,” he writes.