Episode 174: Why the College’s Security Measures Matter

Listen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on Google Play MusiciTunesStitcher, or TuneIn.

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.

Find our books on Amazon!

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment below on the show notes for this episode
  • Calling us at (516) 900-6922 to record a question on our USACollegeChat voicemail if you want us to answer your question live on our podcast

Connect with us through…

Episode 173: Why the College’s Housing Matters

Listen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on Google Play MusiciTunesStitcher, or TuneIn.

Well, we are up to Step 10 out of the 14 steps of your kid’s summer homework. So far, so good. Keep checking our workbook How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students for further detail and more examples (it’s still available at Amazon).

Step 10 calls for your son or daughter to investigate on-campus housing options, which could make some difference in where to apply and where to enroll if you are planning for him or her to live in college housing. Some students, of course, will be commuting to campus, so these questions might seem less important; however, plans change, so housing is still worth a look–both freshman housing and upperclassman housing.

By the way, there are some colleges where the majority of students live in campus housing well past the freshman year, including colleges that actually have a multiple-year housing requirement. What are all those colleges–and their students–thinking? So, send your son or daughter to each college’s website to answer Questions 28 through 31 on this topic.

1. Freshman Housing Requirement

Question 28 asks students to check off whether each college on their LLCO (that, is, their Long List of College Options) requires freshmen to live in on-campus housing. Why would there be a freshman housing requirement, you might ask? Here’s what we wrote to students just like your son or daughter:

Let us start by saying that we think you should live on campus as a freshman if at all possible, given whatever financial constraints your family has. As a matter of fact, many colleges actually require it–for both good and not-so-good reasons.

A really good reason is that living together in campus housing (whether that means traditional dorms or residential “houses” or something else) does promote a kind of camaraderie among students that is hard to develop any other way. Living in close proximity to others in your same situation often provides a system of support and friendship that many kids at college want and need–whether that comes from studying late into the evening/morning together or eating together or walking back and forth to classes together or meeting each other’s friends and just hanging out together. Perhaps a not-so-good reason, though an understandable one from a college’s point of view, is that colleges need to fill those dorm rooms and bring in the revenue that comes from filling them.

The importance of living on campus is similar to the importance of going away to college, in our opinion. Both provide you with a way to spread your wings in a relatively safe and protected environment before you are ready to be completely on your own. Living in campus housing requires you to figure out how to eat, study, do laundry, clean up, sleep enough, and manage money–without having to deal with the safety and transportation and utilities issues that come with off-campus housing and without the comparative ease of living at home.

So, even if you are going to a college in your hometown or within commuting distance of home, try to live on campus–especially if you can afford it, but even if you need to use scholarship funds or loans to cover it. Why? Because it is an integral part of the college experience–especially if you are attending a college close to home.

2. Types of College Housing

If you have visited any colleges so far in your search, you probably already know that not all residential facilities are created equal when it comes to attractiveness, comfort, convenience, supervision, and security. But prospective students should also remember to think about what residential life will be like not only as freshmen, but also as upperclassmen with more and/or different housing options, including apartments nearby, but off campus, and perhaps fraternity and sorority houses.

The residential facilities that a college provides are usually well described–even bragged about–on a college’s website, can be seen on virtual campus tours on the website, and can certainly be seen firsthand on a college visit. College tours love to take visiting kids and parents to look at dorms, even when they are of the most ordinary kind. While we don’t think any student should choose a college because of its housing facilities, we do think it is reasonable to put housing in the scale when weighing choices, which might mean taking a college off his or her LLCO if the housing options seem terrible.

Your son or daughter might expect to find at least these housing options in his or her research:

Traditional college dorms, with long halls of double and single rooms and a huge bathroom shared by everyone on the hall, usually with upperclassmen serving as residential advisors to provide some level of supervision and support for students

Apartment-style suites, with several bedrooms and a bathroom–and sometimes with a living area and a kitchen–for four to six or so students, usually with a residential advisor nearby

Residential houses, which sponsor both social and academic activities for residents, often have one or two faculty families living with the students, often have their own eating facilities where everyone dines together, and have their own sense of community pride

Many colleges have a mix of housing facilities, including off-campus apartment buildings owned and operated by the college. And then there are some colleges that do not offer housing at all–including many two-year community colleges–and that expect students to commute to campus.

Questions 29 and 30 ask students to check off the types of housing that a college offers and, then, to jot down any interesting housing information, including any statistics about how many students live in campus housing and how long they stay.

3. Commuting to Campus

When Marie and I worked at the high school we co-founded in Brooklyn, most of our students who went on to college ended up commuting to a college in one of the five boroughs of New York City. We understand what commuting is like, and we urge families to think about a few things that are sometimes overlooked.

For example, if your son or daughter will be commuting, think about whether he or she would be using public transportation and, if so, how frequently those buses, trains, or subways run during the day and at night–and how late at night, if he or she is staying on campus to do a group project or to study at the library. Think about what traffic and parking would be like if he or she were driving a family car to the campus, including late at night. Think about what the commute would be like in bad weather. And don’t forget the cost of commuting as well–unless the college is within walking distance, of course.

Questions 31 asks students to jot down what the commute would be like if that is in your family’s plans.

Well, that’s it for housing. We are almost there. Join us next week for Step 11. It’s one that parents won’t want to miss.

Find our books on Amazon!

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode173
  • Calling us at (516) 900-6922 to record a question on our USACollegeChat voicemail if you want us to answer your question live on our podcast

Connect with us through…

Download this episode!

Episode 88: Assignment #8–Looking at College Housing and Safety

Listen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on Google Play MusiciTunesStitcher, or TuneIn.

Assignment #8 should be another of the more enjoyable and less academic assignments. Its premise is that, if a student is not living at home during college, then the kinds of residence halls or other campus housing available at a college makes a difference in the life of that student–at least for the freshman year and often for much longer. We feel as though you all are getting a well-rounded view of the colleges on your teenager’s long summer list of college options so far. Here’s what you have already done:

So, now let’s turn to campus housing (plus a few words for students who plan to commute).

Episode 88: Assignment #8--Looking at College Housing and Safety on USACollegeChat podcast1. Your Assignment #8

 Download the Assignment #8 Worksheet

For Assignment #8, your teenager and you are going to examine the types of on-campus housing available. You already found out (back in Assignment #1) whether freshmen are required to live on campus–as many are. But there are some colleges–including some really interesting colleges–where students live in campus housing well past the freshman year, such as Hamilton College (in upstate New York), where all students live on campus in 27 residence halls or St. Michael’s College (in Colchester, Vermont) where all full-time undergrads live on campus all four years unless they are living at home with family or Colorado College (in Colorado Springs) where there is a three-year on-campus housing requirement (with a few exceptions) or the University of Rochester (NY) where more than 90 percent of students live in campus housing. What are all those colleges–and their students–thinking?

And then there is the issue of safety. That’s a topic that, unfortunately, seems to be in the news more and more often lately. What can you find out about safety on campus before your teenager enrolls or even applies? And what about the safety of students who are commuting to campus day and night by public transportation or by car?

2. Why On-Campus Housing?

Let me start by saying that your teenager should live on campus if that is at all possible, given whatever financial constraints your family has, and we have already said that many colleges require it. I am sure colleges have good and bad reasons for requiring it. A really good reason is that living together in campus housing (whether that means traditional dorms or residential “houses” or something else) does promote a kind of camaraderie among students that is hard to develop any other way. Living in close proximity to others in your same situation often provides a system of support and friendship that many kids at college want and need–whether that comes from studying late into the evening/morning together or eating together or walking back and forth to classes together or meeting each other’s friends and just hanging out together. I bet lots of us still have friends from that freshman dorm experience; I know I do, and that was 46 years ago. Perhaps a bad reason, though an understandable one from the colleges’ point of view, is that colleges need to fill those dorm rooms and bring in the revenue that comes from filling those dorm rooms.

I feel about the importance of living on campus the same way I feel about the importance of going away to college. Both provide students with a way to spread their wings in a relatively safe and protected environment before they are ready to be on their own completely. Living in campus housing requires a student to figure out how to eat, study, do laundry, clean up, sleep enough, and manage money–without having to deal with the safety and transportation and utilities issues that come with off-campus housing and without the perhaps comparative ease of living at home.

So, even if your teenager is going to a college close to home within commuting distance, opt for letting him or her live on campus, especially if you can afford it, but even if you need scholarship funds or loans to cover it. Why? Because it is an integral part of the college experience and one that your teenager needs, especially if he or she is going to a college close to home.

3. On-Campus Housing Options

So, now that your teenager is going to live on campus, hopefully, remember that not all residential facilities are created equal when it comes to comfort, convenience, supervision, and security. And, when choosing colleges to apply to, remember to think about what residential life will be like not only when your teenager is a freshman, but also when he or she is an upperclassman with perhaps different housing options, including perhaps fraternity and sorority houses and apartments off campus.

Assignment #8 asks you to check out the residential facilities that a college provides. These facilities are usually well described?even bragged about?on the college’s website, can be seen on virtual tours on the website, or can certainly be seen firsthand on a college visit if you are visiting colleges with your teenager. College tours love to take visiting kids and parents to look at dorms, even when they are of the most ordinary kind. While I don’t think you should choose a college because of its housing facilities, I do think you might consider housing as a possible tiebreaker between two colleges that seem otherwise equal or as a way to take a college off your teenager’s list if the housing options seem nonexistent or terrible.

Here are some options you are going to find:

  • Many colleges have traditional college dorms, with long halls of double and single rooms and a huge bathroom shared by everyone on the hall. There are usually upperclassmen serving as residential advisors–maybe one on each floor–who provide at least some level of supervision and care for students.
  • Many colleges have apartment-style suites, with several bedrooms and a bathroom–and sometimes with a living area and a kitchen–for four to six students. Students in these suites often develop strong friendships–meaning that they take care of each other and watch out for each other. And there is still usually a residential advisor nearby.
  • Some colleges have really interesting residential “houses,” which sponsor both social and academic activities for residents, have one or two faculty families living with the students, have their own eating facilities where everyone dines together, and have their own sense of community pride. And the idea of some live-in adult supervision can be pretty appealing to parents. Here are two examples of residential housing plans:

Undergraduates at Rice University in Houston, Texas, are randomly assigned to one of 11 residential colleges?each with its own dining hall, public rooms, dorm rooms, and competitive website. In fact, about 75 percent of undergraduates continue to live in their residential college throughout their time at Rice. Each residential college has a faculty master, who lives in an adjacent house and encourages a rich intellectual and cultural life and a plan for self-governance at the residential college.

At Vassar College, about 98 percent of students live on campus, and about 70 percent of faculty members also live on or near the campus, with one or two faculty families living in each residence hall. Residential life at Vassar is described this way on the website:

Vassar has eight coeducational houses, one house for women only, and one cooperative (where students do their own shopping, cooking, and cleaning).  The great majority of students live in one of these houses through their junior year. Most seniors (and some juniors) choose to live in one of the college’s partially furnished apartment complexes.  Within easy walking distance of the main campus, these apartments house four to five students, each with his/her own bedroom.

The houses are self-governing and self-directing, led by a House Team that includes faculty residents (House Fellows), residential life professionals (House Advisors), residential life student staffers (Student Fellows and House Interns), and house officers elected by the residents of the house.  The house president also sits on the Vassar Student Association Council, representing the house in the student government.  Together, the House Team strives to create an environment that complements the academic life of the college by providing social, cultural, and educational programming in the houses. (quoted from the website)

Many colleges have a mix of housing facilities, too, including off-campus apartment buildings owned and operated by the college.

And then there are some colleges that do not offer housing at all–and not just two-year community colleges, many (but not all) of which expect students to commute to the campus. Take the University of Massachusetts campus in Boston, known as UMass Boston. The second campus in the UMass system, established about 100 years after UMass Amherst. UMass Boston couldn’t be in a more different setting from the flagship campus in Amherst?with Amherst’s small-town-in-the-middle-of-nowhere vibe and Boston’s big-city-filled-with-colleges-and-businesses-and-culture-and-sports vibe. Interestingly, UMass Boston, the only public four-year college in Boston, does not have dormitories for its students. Its Office of Student Housing does assist students with finding roommates and looking for apartment housing nearby (which seems available) and dealing with landlords. However, a concerned parent or student might have some qualms about a freshman living off campus in a big city without any college-provided supervision or safeguards.

4. The Safety Issue

And that brings us to the safety issue?at least the safety issue of being safe in campus housing and on the campus, especially at night. This is, of course, not the whole safety issue on college campuses today, but it is the part we are talking about in this episode. By the way, for real help and insights about all kinds of safety issues, you should listen to The Security Brief with Paul Viollis, coming to a TV station near you this fall and currently a podcast on CBS radio. Paul is truly the expert on this topic. (You can listen to Regina’s interview with Paul about college campus safety on his podcast here.)

So, if you visit a campus housing facility with your teenager, notice whether there is an adult uniformed security guard with sign-in and sign-out books at the entrance of that residential facility. Ask whether the security guard is there 24 hours a day. I know that many college students find these security guards to be a drag, and I know that this amount of supervision is one reason some students prefer to move into off-campus housing after the freshman year. But, I can tell you as a parent that I loved seeing that security guard at the entrance to my daughter’s super-attractive high-rise of apartment-like suites in the middle of Manhattan at Fordham University‘s Lincoln Center campus?even if I did have to get out my driver’s license and sign in and sign out every time I stopped by.

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. And some colleges, as a matter of fact, do not have anyone on duty monitoring the flow of traffic in and out of residential buildings; students just go in and out with their own keys or cards, as I did years ago at Cornell.

If you are on a campus tour, notice and ask about what the daytime and nighttime transportation options are:

  • Many colleges use shuttle buses or vans to take students from one part of campus to another, especially when the campus is big. They are not only safer than having a student walk a long way alone, but also warmer or cooler and drier, if the weather is not cooperating.
  • Many colleges have blue-light phones–on those stand-along towers with the blue light on top that are placed along walkways, in parking lots, or in distant parts of the campus. They 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 get more information for the police or security guards. Some colleges believe these blue-light phones deter criminal activity; others believe they are mainly a good thing to be able to advertise to prospective students and their parents.
  • Some colleges provide students who serve as walking escorts from building to building or from buildings to the parking lots after dark?because you just can’t always have a buddy with you.

And some colleges have all of the above and more. As any parent would likely say, “The more, the better.”

Again, if you are on a campus tour, notice and ask about these questions:

  • Are there security guards at the entrances to all of the classroom buildings, libraries, auditoriums, sports facilities, and so on?
  • Are student IDs needed to get in and out of the buildings?
  • How do guests and visitors get in and out of the buildings?
  • Is the campus gated or fenced in or walled in or otherwise closed off? Are there guards at the campus entrances? Of course, many urban campuses do not have any enclosed campus to speak of; they are more like a collection of buildings in a group of city blocks without any sense of a campus. It’s harder to provide a sense of security in those cases. But access to the campus is not just an urban issue. On suburban and rural campuses, is it possible for those outside of the college community to wander on and off the campus at will? That can be just as dangerous as any urban setting.

But, before you even visit a campus, ask your teenager to find out what each college’s website says about the ways security is provided in the residential facilities and on the campus generally.

And then ask your teenager to go to our best friend, College Navigator, the great online search service provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, and look under “Campus Security” for each college on that long summer list of college options. There you will find crime statistics for three years, including the number of and reasons for criminal offenses and arrests on campus and, specifically, in the residence halls. I do believe that the fair interpretation of these statistics is not necessarily easy for just any layperson to do.

Let’s say a word to those of you who plan for your teenager to live at home and commute to campus. Safety is an issue for you, too. Your teenager still needs to pay attention to all of the security measures on campus, just as a residential student does. But you and your teenager also have to worry about the convenience and safety of the commute. Sometimes doing the commute by public transportation seems as though it would be the easy choice. But what about 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 your car or 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?   And none of those safety issues take into account simply the time commitment of what might be two or even three hours of commuting each day.

So, have your teenager take the Assignment #8 worksheet and complete one for each college on his or her long summer list of college options. First, jot down the types of campus housing available and anything particularly interesting about those options. Second, note any safety measures discussed on the website and any concerns raised by the Campus Security section of College Navigator. Finally, is you are thinking to have your teenager commute, jot down what that really might mean.

Download the Assignment #8 Worksheet

The Kindle ebook version of our book, How To Find the Right College, is on sale for $1.99 all summer long! Read it on your Kindle device or download the free Kindle app for any tablet or smartphone. The book is also available as a paperback workbook.

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment below on the show notes for this episode
  • Calling us at (516) 900-6922 to record a question on our USACollegeChat voicemail if you want us to answer your question live on our podcast

Connect with us through…