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.  The Department of Education periodically publishes The Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting (Clery Handbook) and other compliance materials.  However, because requirements are so complex, these materials can be confusing, inconsistent, or simply overwhelming to institutional compliance officers.  As a result, enforcement of the Clery Act often results in steep fines for institutions making good faith efforts to comply with the law.  


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 efforts to streamline the Clery Act requirements will be on the agenda as Congress considers reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA).  Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has made it clear he supports the modification or outright removal of many outdated rules and regulations, including many associated with the Clery Act.  However, the current focus on campus sexual assault may prompt some legislators to advocate for additional Clery requirements designed to address that issue.

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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