As part of our series investigating safety statistics for college campuses, College Parents of America presents our newest offering: incident rates of robberies and burglaries in student housing.

Robberies and burglaries are fairly common occurrences in residence halls. Such a statement is corroborated by the Department of Education’s collection of safety data on the Campus Safety and Security Data Analysis Cutting Tool. Using that tool, one can find out that between 2010 and 2012, there were 33,883 robberies and burglaries in residence halls across the nation–an average of over 11,000 per year.

As a parent of college students, you may wonder which universities are most susceptible to these incidents. That’s very difficult to quantify. Not all robberies or burglaries are the same and little is known about the nature of these incidents. Questions we might want to know include information on the severity of losses, the number of people committing these events, whether the perpetrator(s) are still in school or are in jail, etc. Furthermore, three years is a very small sample size and is therefore subject to significant variance in each released dataset.

However, in discussing what we do know, there are two ways to frame our thinking. And, it is important to present both, otherwise significant information and context is lost, rendering the accuracy of the data inaccurate in presentation and usage. (Such a flawed approach goes against what College Parents of America is interested in; we strive to compile accurate information to inform interested parents, not simply create ‘clickbait’ headlines.)

Our methodology for this project was straightforward. Below, we’ve taken data from the 2010-2012 collection of school security information on the Campus Safety and Security Data Analysis Cutting Tool on residence hall crime and extracted the data on residence hall robberies and burglaries. We then merged that dataset with school dormitory capacity information from IPEDS. We ended up with two lists: the first list is by a university ranking by raw number of incidents, while the second list is a university ranking by the number of incidents per dormitory capacity (minimum 50 robberies and/or burglaries).

Residence Hall Robberies and Burglaries 2010-2012, University Rankings by Raw Number of Incidents

Residence Hall Robberies and Burglaries 2010-2012, University Rankings by Incidents per Dormitory Capacity

Concluding remarks:

While the first list is the type of list you’d likely see all over the internet, it is almost certainly less helpful than the second. Far too often in media the first list would be framed as “25 schools with the most dangerous dorms.” As we stated at the beginning of this series, such statements are rarely, if ever, accurate. However, that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing worthwhile from these lists. (If one really wanted a ‘clickbait’ headline for the above charts, it would be something like “50 colleges and universities where students need to lock your dorm room door and be on guard.” Neither particularly catchy nor meaningful, is it?)

In reviewing this information, there are three key takeaways:

1) The raw incident list, while generally unhelpful, can reveal some counterintuitive realities about robberies and burglaries in residence halls. For example, small private universities and colleges can have more reported robberies and burglaries than large public universities. For example, Benedict College (fewer than 3,000 total on-campus and in dorms) has more reported robberies and burglaries than schools like ASU (73,000+ students, 11,000+ in dorms). That’s not what most of us would expect before running these numbers.

2) The incident rate per dormitory space per year is almost certainly more informative about college safety than raw incident rates alone. Incidents per dormitory space contextualizes the information in a way that begins to shape the risk a student might have to his or her belongings in a dorm room.

To make this point clearer, consider the following sentences derived from the data tables: A) over a three year period, there was an residence hall robbery or burglary per 12 dormitory spaces at Alabama A&M, but only one per 294 dormitory spaces at Rutgers University; B) Alabama A&M had 112 residence hall burglaries and robberies over three years while Rutgers had 162. The former data point is a per student number a parent can consider in regard to their own student’s safety, while the latter is just a number sans any meaningful context.

3) Parents need to review school policies on the replacement of student belongings due to robbery or burglary in the dorms. After all, if such an incident happens on school property, there may be legitimate questions about who is responsible for the student’s things in the dorm. In most cases, though, it will be the student’s responsibility to replace stolen goods. However, it’s always worth a quick review. If the school policy immediately available, parents should just ask someone from the school’s residence life department. If parent knowledge is a good indicator of the availability of school policies, you’ll probably have to ask; a recent study revealed 53% of parents do not know what their student’s school policy is for replacing a student’s stolen or damaged personal property.

4) Students need to lock their dormitory doors and keep a good eye on their belongings. With more than 11,000 dorm room robberies and burglaries a year, it’s absurd that 40% of students don’t lock their dorm room door. And, for students who don’t have access to their parents homeowners insurance (or who find that coverage insufficient), take the suggestion of National Association of Insurance Commissioners and consider protecting your stuff with college renters insurance. Our provider of tuition insurance for our members also provides renters insurance for students.