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Questions to Ask about Campus Safety


I wrote here about a Reader’s Digest report that ranks college campuses on their relative safety. I don’t believe these rankings tell us very much about whether or not or sons or daughters will be safe on campus. They are not useful in comparing campuses.
However, Reader’s Digest did come up with two useful tools to help guide consumers of educational services in understanding how colleges and universities are prepared to handle safety issues.
The first is a survey that it distributed to campuses, asking them a number of questions about the steps they have taken to keep students safe. These include the existence of dorm monitors, blue light emergency systems, and cameras installed in parking lots. You can take a look at the questionnaire here. It is of limited value, however, at fewer than 200 colleges participated in the survey.
More useful is a list of questions parents and students can ask about college safety. Personally, I don’t believe these questions are the primary ones a family should consider in the college search. Still, some parents worry a lot about safety, so they may want to know how best to investigate whether a campus has taken the proper precautions to keep kids safe.
Here are the questions:

  • Does the campus feel safe to you?
  • After you take the admissions tour, can you take one led by campus security?
  • Is the school monitored—in real time, 24/7—by video cameras? Or is the video merely checked after there’s been a problem?
  • Are there call boxes throughout campus?
  • Does the school use electronic-access card keys and newer campus-alert systems?
  • Are there redundant forms of security, like cameras, call buttons and rotating patrols?
  • Does the school offer self-defense classes?
  • Can you talk to professors, upperclassmen, and local residents about security? What do the local police say about college security?


  • Is there a well-defined alcohol and drug policy? How vigorously is it enforced?
  • Are residential staffers trained to spot abuse and offer help?
  • Does the college inform you of arrests and hospitalizations related to drugs and alcohol?
  • How many students are in fraternities and sororities? (They tend to drink more heavily.)
  • How many students are involved in community service? (They tend to drink less.)


  • Are there smoke and carbon monoxide detectors?
  • Are there sprinklers and fire extinguishers? Are there two exits? Do the windows open?
  • Are there regular fire drills?
  • Does the furnace get annual maintenance, and is the electrical system up-to-date?

Mark Montgomery
Montgomery Educational Consulting


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