U.S. News & World Report Pressed To Include Campus Safety In College Rankings

Should U.S. News' College Rankings Include Campus Safety?
Congresswoman Jackie Speier speaks to reporters after a news conference about emergency recommendations issued today by the National Transportation Safety Board in San Mateo, Calif., Monday, Jan. 3, 2011. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Congresswoman Jackie Speier speaks to reporters after a news conference about emergency recommendations issued today by the National Transportation Safety Board in San Mateo, Calif., Monday, Jan. 3, 2011. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

A group of lawmakers sent a letter to U.S. News & World Report this week urging the magazine to include information about campus safety in its highly influential college rankings.

Ten Democrats and two Republican members of Congress wrote to the U.S. News editors Thursday, saying their main concern is that the rankings should reflect how well colleges handle sexual assault reports.

Student activists have noted that many well-ranked universities have been accused of mishandling sexual violence. Indeed, some of the schools in U.S. News' top 10 ranking for national universities and liberal arts colleges -- including Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, Columbia, Swarthmore and Amherst -- were accused within the past year of botching sexual assault cases.

"When parents and students compare colleges and universities, they deserve to know which campuses are safe and which have demonstrated a pattern of failing to protect and respond to sexual assault," Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who drafted the letter, said in a statement. "U.S. News & World Report should not be giving top marks to institutions that don't follow the law."

U.S. News spokeswoman Lucy Lyons said the magazine welcomes the letter and would be willing to meet with Speier to discuss the proposal.

"We appreciate Congresswoman Speier's letter on expanding the Best Colleges methodology to include campus safety, in particular sexual assault, and have featured her comments on usnews.com," Lyons told The Huffington Post.

U.S. News' college rankings are based on a multitude of factors, including students' high school class standing, SAT and ACT scores, selectivity and graduation rate.

"We hold and attend meetings throughout the year with higher education experts in order to listen to their suggestions and criticisms, as well as to understand the latest trends in higher education," Lyons said. "The consultations with college presidents, deans, institutional researchers and high school counselors give us an opportunity to gather feedback on our rankings methodology."

The letter, dated Weds., April 9, is printed below:

To the Editors of U.S. News and World Report:

We are writing to you to urge you to expand the methodology of your annual assessment of colleges and universities to include campus safety. Nearly 20 percent of young women are victims of attempted or actual sexual assault, along with 6 percent of young men. Despite this widespread problem, the National Institute of Justice has estimated that 63 percent of universities shirk their legal responsibilities to address sexual violence.

For parents in particular, safety is one of their first concerns before considering any institution. But it is difficult for them to find the objective information they need to make a decision about which institution is best for their child. Parents and students deserve to know whether these institutions are fulfilling their obligations, and your annual assessment of colleges and universities is one of the primary resources they turn to for determining which institutions to attend. As you know, your rankings serve as a primary tool for colleges and universities as they assess their performance.

Institutions that fail to adequately respond to sexual violence should not receive accolades from your publication. We urge you to include violence statistics in annual Clery reports and information about institutions' efforts to prevent and respond to incidents of campus sexual assault, including whether those institutions that have been found to be in violation of Title IX provisions regarding sexual violence, when ranking colleges and universities.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif.
Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif.
Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.
Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y.
Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.
Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine
Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.
Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif.
Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass.

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