At GetSafe, we’re always thinking about smart ways to reduce the chance of you becoming the victim of theft, so we’ve crunched data from the Office of Postsecondary Education to find out which colleges have the biggest problems with theft on their campuses.
It’s your first week of college and so far you’ve got it all under control. You’ve decorated your dorm, ordered all the important books (some second-hand!), and now you’re on your way to the library to design a very impressive academic calendar using your shiny new laptop. The same $2,000 laptop you now realize, in a heart-stopping moment of panic, is not in your bag where it should be.
Your mind rewinds to last night: The guy right on your heels as you swiped your keycard to enter your residence hall; and the door to your room, left unlocked for three hours while you visited a friend down the hall …
You are victim number 4,534 of the (on average) 14,851 on-campus burglaries that happen each year across the United States. Your heartbreak is recorded by Campus Police in their crime log, which (in accordance with the Clery Act) will be submitted at the end of the year to the Office of Postsecondary Education. More than 4,000 universities and colleges submit their crime figures to the OPE for offenses including murder, rape, and drug possession. For our analysis, we looked at data for burglaries, robberies, and motor vehicle thefts, and calculated each college’s on-campus crime rate per 1,000 enrolled students and each state’s rate per 10,000 students.
Our first map combines all on-campus burglaries, robberies, and motor vehicle thefts from 2012 to 2014 and shows which states had the most and fewest per year, per 10,000 students.
Vermont’s average rate of 21.3 incidents per 10,000 students was double the national average of 10.4. The reason it topped the rankings is because the state has relatively few colleges but still a large number of thefts on campus. For instance, there were an average of 76 burglaries per year on Vermont college campuses (or 18 per campus), across an average total student population of 38,000. Just under half of the burglaries took place on the University of Vermont’s campus, which is easily the state’s largest university by student enrollment.
Idaho had the lowest average rate of burglaries, robberies, and motor vehicle thefts, at four per year, per 10,000 students. This was over five times lower than Vermont and almost four times lower than Oregon, which – despite being a neighboring state to Idaho – had 15 incidents per 10,000 students and ranked seventh highest. These weren’t the only neighboring states to have wildly different rates: New Hampshire was 42nd at 6.9 per 10,000, compared with first-place Vermont. And Arizona was 49th, whereas neighboring New Mexico was third.
Let’s zoom in to see which individual college campuses had the most burglaries, robberies, and thefts per 1,000 students between 2012 and 2014.
Cheyney University of Pennsylvania had 33.6 incidents of theft per 1,000 students, which was more than any other college and more than 30 times higher than the national average. Cheyney’s other averages were relatively high too: The college had 16 assaults on its campus from 2012 to 2014, four sex offenses, and four robberies. The majority of criminal incidents that occurred on Cheyney’s campus were burglaries, though, which is the case for most colleges. With that in mind, let’s look at burglaries, robberies, and motor vehicle thefts separately. We’ll start with on-campus burglaries that took place within residence halls. These are arguably the most intrusive thefts that students experience.
The graphic above shows the 20 colleges that had, on average across three years, the most burglaries in their residence halls per year, per 1,000 dorm residents.
Cheyney University of Pennsylvania also ranked first for residence hall burglaries, with an average of 30 per year, which equates to 28 per 1,000 student residents. Its high number of student housing burglaries combined with quite a small number of students living on campus (around 1,000), means thatits burglary rate was 70 times higher than the national average of 0.4 per 1,000 dorm residents.
Five of the 10 colleges that had the most burglaries, robberies, and motor vehicle thefts appear in the top 20 for burglaries that occurred in just student housing. Those that appear in only the latter list include Alabama State University, which had an average of 53 student housing burglaries per year, and – in a student resident population of only around 2,500 – were enough to place it fifth highest in the country.
When we extend the rankings to include the 50 colleges with the most student housing burglaries, we can see there’s a lot of diversity between the states in which they reside. For instance, No. 21 Fayetteville State University is a historically black regional university in North Carolina with a dorm capacity of 1,700. And Texas A&M University-Kingsville is a public research university in Texas, 1,400 miles from Fayetteville, with only 1,400 more dorm residents. Yet there are only three positions between them in the above ranking. To see exactly how geography plays a part in student housing burglary rates, we again ranked each state by average yearly incidents per 10,000 students.
The most noticeable thing about the map above is that it appears to show that residence hall burglaries are largely concentrated in the South. West Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina were all in the top 5. The state with more student housing burglaries per capita than any other was Vermont, at 32.2 per 10,000 dorm residents (we saw earlier that Vermont was also highest when on-campus burglaries, robberies, and motor vehicle thefts were combined).
The University of Vermont keeps a meticulous record of the crimes that occur on its campus. Its most recent burglary notification (7 out of 10 UVM burglaries in the past three years happened within student housing) involved a “white male, between 5’7” and 5’10”, 180–200 lbs., patchy scruffy beard, medium but not stocky build, wearing a green sweat shirt, red shirt over the sweat shirt with yellow lettering on the back (sic).”2 He was seen removing a 42” TV from an unoccupied residential room. Apart from making the imaginary laptop scenario we started this article with seem quite mild, that brazen burglary attempt serves as a good reminder that some thieves will stop at nothing to get their hands on your property.
To see if states with high on-campus burglary rates also have high burglary rates in general, we combined the OPE data with statewide burglary figures from the FBI and divided states into three categories (high, medium, and low) depending on what percentile they belonged to.
Residence halls are only half the college burglary story though. In fact, they’re almost literally half of it, because 53.3% of the burglaries that took place on college campuses between 2012 and 2014 occurred in student housing. The remaining 46.7% took place in other on-campus locations, like offices and store rooms. So let’s look at the state and college rankings again but expand our calculations to include all on-campus burglaries.
Twenty-two of the colleges that appeared in the top 50 list for most student housing burglaries also appear in the top 50 list for all on-campus burglaries. Those that appear in only the latter list tend to have low numbers of students living on campus, like the California Institute of the Arts, which has fewer than 500 (which explains why only 4 of the 53 burglaries it experienced over the three years took place in its two student housing facilities). Nevertheless, its yearly average of 17.7 on-campus burglaries was still high enough relative to its student population of fewer than 1,500 to place it 21st highest in the country (16 times higher than the national average of 0.73 per 1,000 students).
Seventeen of the 20 states with the most student housing burglaries per 10,000 students are among the top 20 for all on-campus burglaries. This confirms that residence hall thefts are a major component of all college burglaries and, when a college has lots of students living on its campus and burglaries taking place, thieves will inevitably find their way to where many of the most valuable items reside: in students’ living quarters. The fact that as many as 40% of students regularly leave their apartment or dorm room doors unlocked makes this especially worrying.3
And when thieves are too impatient, aggressive, or bone-headed to wait for crimes of opportunity, which so many college burglaries are, they will sometimes resort to plain old-fashioned robbery.
So which colleges saw the most robberies for their size?
The Art Institute of Atlanta (AIA) had more robberies on its campus per capita between 2012 and 2014 than any other college in the country, and its rate of 5.1 per 1,000 students was a massive 89 times higher than the national average of 0.06. The college made the news in 2013 (one of the years covered by our data) for a zoning violation that was issued to one of its student housing complexes. AIA students were accused of bringing crime into the area, including drug arrests and assaults.4 Unusually, AIA had almost twice as many robberies as burglaries in the three years we looked at (40 versus 23): a relationship not seen in many other colleges, as robberies are typically much rarer than burglaries, even at colleges with small residential populations.
Inspecting city data for Loma Linda reveals that it has a motor vehicle theft rate of 7.42 per 1,000 people5. This rate is not only similar to its on-campus motor vehicle theft rate (6.6 per 1,000 students), but it also lends additional support to the theory that when it comes to college crime, the location of the college can make as much difference as anything else. Let’s see how robberies and car thefts look at the state-level.
On-campus robberies, like burglaries, are concentrated in the Southern states, with Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, and Tennessee in the top 5 (4 of which were in the top 10 for residence hall burglaries). The state map for motor vehicle thefts looks quite different, though, with the highest rates present in the West and only a couple of Southern states making the top 10. Interestingly, every state in the top 10 for on-campus motor vehicle thefts is also ranked as high for statewide car thefts according to FBI data. For robberies on-campus, this was true for 5 of the top 10 states, with West Virginia being the most interesting exception. It was ranked low for statewide robberies but high for those occurring on college campuses.
So we’ve seen which states and colleges have the most thefts on campus according to the last three years of data, but what does the big picture look like? Have burglaries, robberies, and motor vehicle thefts been increasing or decreasing over the last decade? Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell. The OPE’s figures show that on-campus burglaries fell 55% between 2008 and 2009, but further investigation reveals that this dramatic decrease was due to a change in how burglaries on college campuses are defined by the Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting, which is the manual colleges use to categorize criminal incidents. We, therefore, cannot reliably say whether burglaries have increased or decreased.
However, we were able to compare robberies and motor vehicle thefts across the 14 years of available data, and both appear to have legitimately declined. Robberies have fallen from 1.3 per 10,000 students in 2001, to 0.6 in 2014, and motor vehicle thefts have dropped even more significantly from 4.1 to 1.5 across the same time period. Unfortunately, thefts on college campuses are still common.
Our mission to help you protect yourself and your belongings from unscrupulous individuals, therefore, goes on.
Data were extracted from 2001 to 2014 using the Office of Campus Safety and Security Data Analysis Cutting Tool. To prevent colleges with very small populations from skewing the results, we excluded all colleges with fewer than 1,000 enrolled students (and 1,000 student residents, for the student housing burglary map and rankings). Where statistics are given on national totals, rates, and averages, this fact should be considered. For calculating crime rates per 1,000 dorm residents, we combined the OPE’s data with dorm capacity figures from the National Center for Education Statistics. Statewide rates used for comparisons in the state-level maps and tables were calculated using data from the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, averaged across the same three years covered by the OPE’s data (2012 to 2014). Rates are presented rounded, but rankings were created from unrounded figures.
The Campus Safety and Security Data Analysis Cutting Tool, Office of Postsecondary Education of the U.S. Department of Education
FBI Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program
National Center for Education Statistics
- http://www.uvm.edu/~police/. Retrieved 3/24/16.
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