List of most dangerous colleges and universities causes quite a stir

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09/22/2010

When I posted our top story yesterday on the 50 most dangerous schools in the country, I expected it would garner a lot of reads, but I didn't expect it would be off the charts. The Daily Beast, an online magazine, published its second-annual ranking of the most dangerous colleges and universities in the country (it also lists the 50 safest, but, nobody's freaking out about being included on that list. That's marketing gold, baby, put it in the brochure).

Here are the top five most dangerous schools:
1. Tufts University in Medford, Mass.
2. University of Maryland-Baltimore
3. Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.
4. Rutgers University-Newark in Newark, N.J.
5. University of Hartford in West Hartford, Conn.

(Unfortunately the list of the top 50 doesn't appear to actually be a list. To access all 50, click on the image in the middle of the story and then scroll through, one-by-one, to see all 50 schools. Clumsy, I know. Let me know if you find a better way).

Anyway, the publication used crime data from 2006-2008 from the U.S. Department of Education, the FBI and the Secret Service, in conjunction with the Clery Act. They also weighted crimes by severity: Burglary carried the lowest value, with car theft weighed twice as much, assault or robbery six times, arson 10 times, negligent manslaughter 20 times and murder 40 times. All totals were then divided by the number of enrolled students, so that midsize and large campuses could be accurately compared.

Since the publication of this list, there has been a huge debate about the legitimacy of these findings. First of all, the premise that Tufts University is the most dangerous school in the country is, quite frankly, ridiculous. Tufts obviously disagrees with the findings, too.

Washington University in St. Louis, which holds the 13th spot, isn't happy either:

We believe the analysis and methodology used by the site are flawed and are not a credible analysis of crime patterns around our campuses.

They pointed to a blurb from The Daily Beast about the methodology used:

"To be fair, even the numbers reported to the Department of Education are frequently criticized as imperfect and, indeed, schools are regularly fined for non-compliance. Surely, some schools gaming the system escaped deserved inclusion on this list, replaced by others that were steadfastly honest. Congress this fall is expected to strengthen Clery's safety regulations. And colleges themselves also note that inclusion on our list often reflects more their location than their safety precautions."

Obviously, schools aren't happy with the apparent flaws in crime reporting. There were some recent changes to the Clery Act, which came into effect on July 1, 2010 that were spurred by the shootings at Virginia Tech, but these changes didn't really impact reporting validity. Instead, these changes required official emergency plans be written; schools to conduct at yearly drill based on their emergency plans; changes to policies regarding missing students; and the way schools report hate crimes.

But, based on the outcry from some of these schools, there needs to be more consistency and fairness in the reporting structure (or perhaps greater consequences for cheating). I have calls out to folks at Security on Campus, which is more or less in charge of Clery Act stuff, for some comments about these issues. Stayed tuned.

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