What Makes a Safe College Campus?

by Stuart Nachbar, Daytripper University Contributor *


The best answer to this question is: a safe college campus is one where you will feel safe. A personal perception of safety and security is more important than published crime statistics. You can develop that perception only by visiting campuses for yourself, extending each visit beyond the campus tour. 

One of my past responsibilities as an urban planner was to serve as the project manager for a downtown security task force in Newark, New Jersey. Security managers from the city, corporations, and the college community were all represented on this task force. The campus police directors were important participants because their forces protected resident students as well as the surrounding community. 

Here were a few things that I learned from serving on that task force:

•    Cleanliness does more than anything to make people feel safe. The places you fear to go are the ones that are the most littered or run down. 

•    Clear directions make a campus more user-friendly. I like bright and colorful signage that is easily visible at night. Places are safer when you are less likely to feel lost whether you’re biking, driving, or walking.

•    When it comes to nighttime lighting, more is better on a college campus. The newest buildings on college campuses, even at Newark-area colleges Rutgers-Newark and the New Jersey Institute of Technology have brightly lit glass facades. Innovations in energy efficiency have made these buildings feasible and cost-effective as well as more visible at night. 

•    The more public buildings on campus such as athletic facilities, the main library and the student center should be well lit and open late. Students feel safer at a school when they know that the places they frequent are busy hubs of activity. 

•    At the same time, a college should not cram too many student activities, programs, and services into too few buildings. Those buildings will feel more crowded, and they will be less safe if there are too many unlit buildings and spaces around them. 

•    Anyplace that you leave a car should be well lit, not only around your vehicle but also on the sidewalks and streets leading from the parking area to campus. The same is true for anyplace that you lock up a two-wheeled car or wait for a ride on mass transit.

•    The ideal campus police force should include officers on bikes or scooters as well as in cars. College campuses are designed to push cars to the edges, with academic buildings and residences closer to the center. While officers in a vehicle can respond to crimes around campus, those in bikes or scooters can respond faster to crimes at the center of campus. 

•    While Newark, for example,  is home to two four-year colleges as well as two law schools and a medical school, it was not a college town. A real college town is designed to encourage college students to venture off-campus. It was too easy to perceive an “invisible wall” between campus and downtown. Since then, I have noticed that an authentic college town has no invisible walls, even if there is a wall at the entrance. 

To date, I have visited over 150 colleges in cities, college towns, and rural areas. Each creates its own perception of security through its campus, people, and services. It is up to you to find the university setting where you will feel safe and at home at your school.

An independent college and graduate school admissions advisor based in Central New Jersey, Stuart Nachbar blogs on higher education at EducatedQuest.com. For more about his writing and services, contact him at stuart@educatedquest.com