Episode 174: Why the College’s Security Measures Matter

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Today is Step 11 out of the 14 steps we want your son or daughter to take this summer to make his or her search for colleges more effective. As you know by now, these steps are based on our workbook How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (get one at Amazon ASAP).

Step 11 brings us to the safety of students on campus and the security measures that a college takes to keep its students safe. Parents: Getting information about security measures on campus is one way to help alleviate your concerns about letting your son or daughter go away to college and live on campus. Information can be found on each college’s website and from College Navigator for answering Questions 32, 33, and 34 on our College Profile Worksheet. You will also notice and definitely hear about security measures if you visit a college and take a campus tour.

Before we go on, let’s say a word to those of you who plan to have your son or daughter commute to campus from home. Safety is an issue for your family, too. You will still need to pay attention to all of the security measures on campus, but you will also have to worry about the convenience and safety of the commute.

As we said last week in our episode on campus housing, what about commuters’ late-night trips home after a meeting on campus or a late class or studying in the library? What about the safety of getting to a remote parking lot to get in the car or the safety of waiting for 20 minutes or more on a subway platform or on an empty street for a public bus? What about commuting in bad weather, especially in snowstorms, when a college campus might close down unexpectedly and public transportation is snarled? Safety issues might be even more important for commuters than for residential students, and the college cannot be responsible for the safety of your kid’s commute once he or she leaves the campus.

1. Security Measures

Question 32 asks students to check off the types of security measures offered on campus by each college on their LLCO (that, is, their Long List of College Options). Here’s what we said about security measures in the workbook for students:

If you are going to live on campus and you have a chance to visit a campus housing facility, notice whether there is an adult uniformed security guard with a sign-in and sign-out book at the entrance of that residential facility. Ask whether the security guard is there 24 hours a day. We know that many college students find these security guards to be a bit annoying, and we know that this amount of supervision is one reason some students prefer to move into off-campus housing after the freshman year. But, we can also tell you that parents love seeing those security guards at the entrances to residential facilities, and we don’t blame them.

Obviously, uniformed guards provide a higher level of security than a reception desk staffed by students who are working part-time jobs or work-study jobs. Some colleges, in fact, do not have anyone at all on duty to monitor the flow of people in and out of residential facilities; students just go in and out with their own keys or cards.

Whether you are on a campus tour or reading about a college on a website, look for daytime and nighttime security measures like these:

Shuttle buses or vans to take students from one part of campus to another, especially when the campus is big

Blue-light call boxes on recognizable stand-alone towers with a blue light on top, which are placed along walkways, in parking lots, or in distant parts of the campus and which let a student in trouble call for help instantly (some are also outfitted with cameras, sirens, and broadcast systems to alert students nearby or to provide more information for the police or security guards)

Students who serve as walking escorts from building to building or from buildings to the parking lots after dark.

Here are some more questions to research or to observe on a campus visit:

  • Are there security guards at the entrances to all of the classroom buildings, libraries, auditoriums, and sports facilities?
  • Are student IDs needed to get in and out of campus buildings?
  • How do guests and visitors get in and out of campus buildings?
  • Is the campus gated or fenced in or walled in or otherwise closed off? Are there guards at the campus entrances?

2. Crime Statistics

Now, instruct your son or daughter to go to College Navigator and look under Campus Security for each college on his or her LLCO. There he or she will find crime statistics for three years, including the number of criminal offenses and reasons for arrests on the campus and, specifically, in the residence halls. Question 33 asks students to jot down any crime statistics that seem noteworthy.

3. News Stories About Safety Issues

And, finally, Question 34 asks students to jot down details from any reliable news stories about student safety incidents at the college. As you probably know, there have been plenty of stories in the news recently about safety issues on college campuses. Some of these stories have brought to light incidents of female students being sexually assaulted or harassed by other students. Sometimes it is not clear what degree of responsibility the colleges in these stories have taken or should have taken for the incidents that have been reported. While it is not fair to blame a college for the actions of an individual student, it is fair to look at whether a college has a culture or habit of being unresponsive to students’ claims and complaints, particularly about sexual misconduct.

Well, this is not such a pleasant episode, but it is an issue that many parents are already thinking about. Better safe than sorry, as they say. Take the time to look at safety and security seriously and then move forward in the college search. And remember, parents, commuting does not make kids safer. Really.

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