It’s college acceptance season. Millions of students are now weighing their options about where to spend the next four years of their lives. As they do, they will likely turn to premier college rankings guides such as The Princeton Review, an independent organization that has offered data on colleges and universities for more than three decades.
But The Princeton Review is missing a critical piece of information that it could easily provide for each campus: How safe is this school? How likely is it that any given student—myself, my child—will experience sexual assault?
In fact, none of the college guides sufficiently answers these questions. All of them should. But with its existing reporting system and its distinguished reputation, The Princeton Review is perfectly positioned to lead the way.
Sexual assault remains both underreported and epidemic on our nation’s campuses. Data suggest that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men are sexually assaulted on college campuses. The Office of Civil Rights has already found several schools, including Princeton University (unaffiliated with the Review), to have violated Title IX by withholding relevant data or failing to prevent a hostile environment for students. (Nearly 200 schools remain under investigation.)
Increasingly, survivors of sexual assault are going to court to hold college administrators accountable for student safety. Earlier this year, for example, Florida State University paid nearly $1 million for football star Jameis Winston’s accuser to drop her Title IX lawsuit against the school. The parents of a Kansas University student who says she was raped in her assailant’s dorm room recently filed a class-action suit claiming that the university misled prospective students with claims that its residences are safe.
You don’t need a degree to figure out that money spent by colleges on lawsuits would be better spent preventing sexual assault from happening in the first place.
What role could The Princeton Review play? It could provide data that would help students make informed choices—and help hold schools accountable.
The review’s current crime data is self-reported and only offers part of the picture. The Princeton Review should use its existing system to survey students about their experience of the prevalence and atmosphere of sexual assault, and it should make that information available to prospective students. Beyond crime data, we need to know students’ own perceptions of and experiences with safety and sexual violence—and the cultures on their campus that play a role—reported in their own words. From a statistically-sound research point of view, perceptions correspond to reality.
And that’s where The Princeton Review shines. Its evaluations come not from outside observation, but from the real experts: the students themselves. It surveys more than 100,000 students annually to record and compile their unfiltered opinions about academics and campus life. The system is already in place. This vast and valuable survey needs to include discussions about safety and sexual violence.
The demand for this information is high. According to David Hawkins, executive director for educational content and policy at the National Association of College Admission Counseling, campus safety is a top concern among parents and high school seniors. “When college admissions staff speak to high school students and parents, they frequently get the same questions: What is the institution’s record on and approach to crime and sexual assault? What is the administration doing to keep the campus safe?” he says.
A recent study showed that when schools are strong on reducing sexual violence, there is less sexual violence. Colleges that are already taking positive steps to keep students safe should benefit from ranking systems because—like it or not—national rankings are how we assign value and prestige to higher education. Institutions, from ranking entities to colleges themselves, need to take positive action for us to see culture change and actual impact on the conduct of colleges and the safety of students.
Students and their parents have a right to know.