ANNAPOLIS – Inconsistency in collecting data and a rush to file it has left colleges and universities complaining about new online crime data filing requirements from the Department of Education.
Colleges and universities have reported crime statistics for 10 years, but recent amendments to federal code under the “Clery Act,” named after a raped and murdered college student, require data to be posted online to allow parents and students to make more informed school choices.
The Department of Education will present a report to Congress summarizing its results within the next month, officials said.
Several schools have complained they were rushed to file the data, which is uploaded directly from the institution to the department’s Web site. Schools also have griped about changing guidelines that make analyzing trends difficult. Some schools used different geographic configurations from year to year to comply with changing reporting requirements.
A school in a high-crime area, for example, could report data only for its immediate campus in 1998, while in 1999 it could report data for the wider surrounding area.
Changes in reporting requirements, said school officials, left George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., reporting the third largest increase in liquor law violations, from seven in 1998 to 283 in 1999.
The huge change, said George Mason Dean of Students Girard Mulherin, resulted when the types of incidents that could be reported changed. Formal actions by police and university officials used to be the only data reported, said Mulherin, but now any kind of disciplinary action is included.
That’s the case, too, at the University of Oregon, said Tom Fitzpatrick, director of public safety. The numbers from his university probably reflect a change in enforcement and increased usage by students.
The system will improve, Fitzpatrick said, and increases show schools are doing a better job of enforcing and recording crimes.
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