Campus Safety

A safe campus environment is a priority for colleges, students, and their families alike. Students, faculty, administrators, and visitors should feel safe and secure any time they step foot on a college campus.  As such, institutions have devoted significant resources to campus security personnel and safety measures, and lawmakers have maintained an active interest in the issue.  

The Clery Act is the primary vehicle guiding federal requirements in this area.  The Act focuses heavily on detailed breakdowns of crime statistics, but also requires institutions to issue timely warnings to alert the campus community to imminent threats, conduct emergency notifications and emergency response testing, and maintain crime and fire safety policies, procedures, and practices.  Most recently, the Act was amended to address issues related to sexual assault.

As the Act has grown increasingly complex, staying in compliance with it has become a significant issue for many institutions—particularly those that are small or that do not have the resources to maintain large compliance staffs. For many years, the Department of Education maintained The Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting (Clery Handbook), a lengthy compliance manual that set forth complex requirements that many institutions found to be  confusing, inconsistent, and simply overwhelming.  As a result, enforcement of the Clery Act often results in steep fines for institutions making good faith efforts to comply with the law.  

During the final months of the Trump Administration, the Department announced that it had rescinded the 265-page Clery Handbook and replaced it with a short guidance document clarifying that campuses now have greater flexibility with respect to compliance with Clery requirements. Intended to reduce regulatory burden, the new guidance contains several significant changes, including revisions regarding Clery geography, Clery crimes, and campus security authorities. In general, the key principle outlined is that the Department “will accept an institution’s reasonable interpretation of terms as long as those terms are defined clearly to individuals who review the campus’ Clery Act reports.” 


Campus safety issues are very much in the forefront of the national higher education dialogue, given recent campus shootings and heightened attention to incidences of sexual assault.  At the federal level, college and universities have been required to collect and disseminate campus crime and safety statistics since the early 1990s.  Over the years, campus safety requirements under the Clery Act (Section 1092 (f) of the Higher Education Act) have expanded considerably.  

Institutional failure to comply with the Clery Act can result in large fines or the suspension, or limiting, of Title IV funding. 


It is likely that amendments to the Clery Act will be on the agenda as Congress considers reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA).  In general, Republicans tend to support efforts to streamline the Act’s complex requirements, while Democrats are typically in favor of expanding the statute’s coverage, particularly with respect to campus sexual assault.

Among the suggestions that Congress might consider in amending the HEA are those proposed by the Task Force on the Federal Regulation of Higher Education.  The report from the Task Force, released in 2015, outlines eight specific steps Congress should take to make the Clery Act more effective and efficient.  These suggestions include: (1) making crime reporting definitions consistent; (2) preventing multiple counting of the same crime; (3) permitting institutions to rely on professional judgement in issuing timely warnings; (4) narrowing the definition of “non-campus property;” (5) narrowing the definition of “campus security authorities;” (6) streamlining fire safety reports; (7) streamlining requirements related to policies on missing students; and (8) simplifying required drug- and alcohol-abuse programs.  

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