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Few states have reported as much college crime as Pa.

Written by Joel Shannon/The York Daily Record | Sep 12, 2017 8:05 AM
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Photo by AP Photo/Betsy Blaney

In this Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014 file photo, Texas Tech freshman Regan Elder helps drape a bed sheet with the message "No Means No" over the university's seal at the Lubbock, Texas campus to protest what students say is a "rape culture" on campus.

(Undated) -- Some 1,701 crimes were reported by Pennsylvania colleges in 2015, one of the highest figures in the nation.

That's according to data from the Department of Education's Campus Safety and Security survey, which tracks a wide range of reported criminal offenses, including rape, burglary, assault and murder.

Only California, New York and Texas schools have more crime reports than Pennsylvania colleges. When adjusted for the number of students in the state, Pennsylvania drops to 14th in the nation.

Why so high? 

Kenn Marshall, media relations manager for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education suggested a few possible reasons why Pennsylvania's numbers are higher than average.

  • Pennsylvania's schools are better at reporting crime, in part because of the high-profile Jerry Sandusky scandal. Marshall speculated that such a public case happening so close to home has a large influence over the college officials charged with tracking and reporting crime. In the private school sector, thorough training helps administrators report crime data accurately, said Don Francis, President of the Association of Independent Colleges & Universities of Pennsylvania. He suggested other states may not be as rigorous. 
  • Pennsylvania has a mix of urban and suburban schools, with the urban schools more prone to crime. Marshall says that's one of the big reasons the 14 PASSHE schools  -- which include Millersville and Shippensburg -- have crime rates significantly below the statewide average: They're mostly based in safe, suburban communities.
  • These numbers don't differentiate between major and minor crimes. Citing an overall downward trend in college crime, Marshall noted that the raw numbers in the Campus Safety and Security survey count a reported burglary the same as a reported rape -- one crime report. He noted several other campus safety data sources that break down the data in different ways, but he said the overall picture presented is roughly the same.

Safety tips

Marshall credits an overall downward trend in campus crime to better safety education and an increased emphasis on security by colleges. Among the things students can do to stay safe:

  • Take advantage of police escort services. Not sure if campus security is available to walk you home at night? Call and ask, Marshall says. They likely will. 
  • It's okay to lie and be rude if it means staying safe. Campus Safety Magazine's back to school tips note several situations where students should put their safety first, even if it means doing something uncomfortable. Using a made-up excuse to get out of a bad situation and reporting a suspicious encounter are among their examples. 
  • Remember: Most people on campus are strangers. The magazine also reminds students that although some colleges can feel like a close-knit community, trust still needs to be earned. Don't assume everyone has your best interests in mind.

About the data

The 2015 Campus Safety and Security data is compiled by the Office of Postsecondary Education of the U.S. Department of Education.

Colleges are required by law to provide data for the survey, but the Department of Education does not independently verify the data, according to the survey website.

The survey breaks down the location of the reported crime as on-campus, noncammpus and public property crime. The majority of Pennsylvania's reported crimes occurred on-campus, according to the survey data.

This story is part of a partnership between WITF and the York Daily Record.

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