While your child may be eager to visit colleges to check out the dorms, the study and athletic facilities, the food and the social atmosphere, what shouldn’t be overlooked is the level of security provided on campus. Most high school students would not rate this as one of their primary concerns when considering which college to attend, which is why it is often up to their parents to ask important questions about the safety of where their children may be spending the next several years.
It is important to see beyond what the college administration and the admissions department say or have written in their brochures; the reality on campus may be different. During official admissions department tours, what is revealed is highly scripted and meant to showcase the school in its most positive light. Parents can get a more accurate picture of campus safety by talking directly with security personnel, by looking at the department’s Daily Log and by closely observing security systems and mechanisms around campus.
The campus security and police departments at any given college can range from a very small, contracted security staff with no law enforcement authority, to large, armed and sworn police force, with full law enforcement authority. In and of themselves, one is not necessarily better than the other. However, the department responsible for the safety and security of everyone on campus should have sufficient resources (budgetary, staffing etc.) and the political and organizational stature to insure that safety and security issues are taken seriously and are considered an organizational priority.
Parents can most easily access the campus Clery Report. Another easy way to evaluate campus safety is to evaluate the student newspaper’s crime report. If you are still concerned, then ask to see the institution’s annual security records and their emergency response times. Colleges are required by federal law to provide these to the public. Crime statistics should be considered within context: a large, urban, residential university can be expected to have a higher crime rate than a small, rural, commuter college.
To assist you in accurately evaluating campus security programs, review the Campus Security Checklist below that has been produced to help parents ask the right questions when visiting a college. This checklist is not meant to be all-inclusive, but rather, a baseline for comparative purposes.
Your own observations are important, too. When you enter a campus, look to see if there is a gate or a booth to restrict access. On your tour of residence facilities, what type of locks do you observe? Is there a building monitor at the front door and how are students gaining access? Are there emergency blue light call boxes on campus? If you are on campus after dark, is the campus well lit? Are campus security/police officers on continuous patrol around the campus? Indoors, what fire safety equipment is easily accessed?
On your tour, try to obtain the answers to these questions from a representative of the security department, not the admissions department. In fact, many schools report an astonishingly low number of crimes or fires. While an admissions department representative can probably answer many of the questions, it is best to go directly to the source, the professionals on campus who are responsible for the safety of students.
Campus Security Checklist
Access to Campus:
- Is the campus open or is access to campus restricted, requiring you to stop and check in or show ID? If so, during what hours is the entrance or other locations staffed?
- Are all campus entrances and exits that are open during the day also open overnight? If not, during what hours is campus access restricted, and how so?
- Does the college/university employ their own staff, or do they hire contract security officers?
- Does the college/university employ security officers (no law enforcement authority) or campus police officers, with the authority to make arrests?
- What type of uniforms do they wear; jacket and tie, police style, other?
- What is their level of training?
Access to Residence Halls and Dormitories:
- Are the buildings locked? If so, around-the clock? If not, during what hours? (Observe how people get in; is the door propped open, do others let them in, is it not locked etc.)
- What types of locks are used on the exterior door(s)? Do they utilize a push button pad, a hard key, or a card?
- Are the exterior doors locked and alarmed? If so, is this around-the-clock? If not, during what hours? (Do you notice people coming/going from several doors?)
- Is there a building monitor or proctor at the front door to check IDs and sign in visitors? If so, during what hours?
- How do students gain entry into their rooms: is a push button pad on the door used, card access, a hard key?
- How do visitors gain access into the building and into students’ rooms? If there is no one at the front door, is there an intercom that guests can use to call residents of the building to allow them access?
Around the Campus:
- Do you observe emergency call boxes (quite frequently these are identified with ‘blue lights’)? Ask how many of these are on campus.
- If you have an opportunity to visit after dark, observe exterior lighting. Do you feel the lighting is adequate? Are you comfortable walking around campus? Are there people out and about walking around campus?
- Depending upon the time of the evening and what day of the week you visit, what do you observe? Walk near the dormitories; is it loud, are students “partying?” (The level of activity on a Friday night at 9 PM would undoubtedly be higher than that on a Wednesday evening at 7 PM).
- While on campus, do you observe campus security/police officers on patrol? Are they visible?
- What is the college’s alcohol policy?
- Are the dormitories and residence halls alcohol free, or are students who are ‘of age’ allowed to drink in their rooms?
- Does the college offer “substance free” buildings, floors etc.?
- Is there a bar on campus?
- Are there bars and/or liquor stores right around campus?
- If there are fraternity and/or sorority houses on or near campus, what is the alcohol policy there?
- What are sanctions for violating the policies: 1st offense for possession/use of alcohol, 2nd offense, 3rd offense etc..
- Does the college allow freshmen/first-year students to have vehicles on campus?
- If so, what does it cost for a decal?
- Where is/are the designed parking lot(s) for freshmen/first year students, and how do students get to them?
- Are the parking lots well lit and regularly patrolled by Security?
Escorts and Campus Shuttles:
- Does the college provide personal safety escorts? If so, by whom: security or a student group? Is this a van service?
- If so, what are the hours this service is provided? Is it from dusk to dawn, or more restricted?
- What are the physical restrictions placed on this escort service? Does it only provide service on campus? Does it provide service off campus?
- Does the college provide van shuttle service around campus? If so, during what hours? Is there a cost for this?
- Does the college provide a van shuttle service off campus? Colleges that restrict first year students from having vehicles on campus may provide van service to off campus locations such as a pharmacy, food store, bank, mall, train or bus station etc.
Residence Hall Fire Safety:
- Is the building sprinklered? If so, you should observe sprinkler heads above you. If so, are all parts of the building(s)? Are the students’ rooms sprinklered?
- Does the building fire alarm signal automatically sound at the campus security/police department?
- Does the building fire alarm signal automatically sound at the local fire department, immediately sending a fire department response?
- Is the responding fire department volunteer or professional/full time?
- Does the building have fire extinguishers?
- Does the college conduct fire drills in the residence halls? If so, how often?
- Are the exits (emergency and non) marked and clearly visible? Are there illuminated exit signs above the doors? Are the exits obstructed; could you easily get to them and exit if needed?
- Do you observe fire alarm pull stations? Is there a cover over them, to prevent false alarms (“pre-alarm pull station covers”)?
- Be very observant relative to fire safety concerns when walking through the residence hall(s); there should be nothing in the hallway (obstruction to exit), there should be fire alarm pull stations at every stairwell, elevator and exit. Are there potential fire hazards such as bulletin boards covered with flammable papers in the hallways?
Other Areas of Interest:
- Is there a Health Center on campus? When is it staffed? When is it staffed with a nurse? How do students get to the hospital for non-emergencies? (for minor cuts, sprained ankles, etc.)
- What are the library hours? Are escorts provided to and from the library at night?