by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
George Leef’s latest column for Forbes assesses the impact of the Clery Act, federal legislation that forces universities to provide the feds with information about campus crimes.
Leef notes early in his piece that campuses are, on the whole, much safer locations than society at large.
Even though violence does sometimes strike on campuses, they are mostly very safe places. As Jason Jones noted in this 2010 Pope Center commentary, in 2008 Detroit reported 306 murders and 17,818 burglaries. Wayne State University, located in Detroit, had no murders and just 45 burglaries. …
… In a recent ranking by Business Insider of the worst campuses in the country for violent crime, UCLA was at the top of that list, with an average of 49 incidents per year at a school with 38,157 students. That is a rate of .00138. In Los Angeles as a whole, however, the violent crime rate was .00481 in 2012. UCLA students were much less likely to be victimized than residents of the surrounding city.
The same is true for all other “bad” campuses, such as Florida State, Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt, and the University of New Mexico. Violent crime is rare on those campuses and students are far safer than city residents.
Given those facts, Leef asks whether the Clery Act is worth the cost.
A number of schools have been fined by the Department of Education for failure to comply. Yale, for one, was fined $115,000 in 2011. To avoid such fines, colleges go to considerable lengths to remain on the good side of federal bureaucrats, but that entails extra expense. In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article, “Think College Costs Too Much? Thank the Government” Arthur Kirk, president of Saint Leo University, pointed out that tuition could be lower if it weren’t for federal mandates, including the Clery Act.
Everyone is against crime and desires to keep campuses safe. The question is whether the Clery Act is effective in that regard. How do the costs compare with the benefits?
Colleges and universities must divert limited resources away from whatever their next-best use would be and into Clery compliance. Larger institutions have full-time compliance officers; smaller ones have to pile more work on existing staff. And to some degree, the cost falls on faculty members who happen to have some tangential relationship with the crime reporting mandates, as Wake Forest University economics professor Robert Whaples explained in “Another Federal Mandate—Or How I Misspent My Summer Vacation.”
If the compliance costs reduced campus crime or at least helped students make better decisions on avoiding relatively unsafe schools, then the costs would seem justified. Unfortunately, there is good reason to doubt that there are any such benefits.