Bipartisan Group of Senators Announces Hearing on Simplifying College Regulations

One portion of the hearing could cover the Clery Act’s crime definitions, timely warning requirements and definition of noncampus property.

On Feb. 24, a group of U.S. senators from both sides of the aisle will conduct a hearing on recommendations from a report from the American Council on Education on how to streamline and reduce federal regulations of U.S. institutions of higher education while protecting students and taxpayers.

In 2013, these senators appointed a task force consisting of a group of 16 college and university presidents and higher education experts. It was tasked with conducting a comprehensive, nonpartisan review of the U.S. Department of Education’s regulations and reporting requirements on colleges and universities.

The task force’s objective was to provide specific recommendations on reducing, eliminating or streamlining duplicative, costly or confusing regulations and reporting requirements to Congress. Clery Act crime definitions, timely warning requirements and the definition of noncampus property were highlighted in the report as being regulations of concern.

RELATED: The Role of a Clery Compliance Manager

“The stack of federal regulations on colleges and universities today, which stretches as tall as I am, is simply the piling up of well-intentioned laws and regulations, done without anyone first weeding the garden,” said Senate education committee Chairman Alexander on Thursday. “This report will guide our efforts to weed the garden and allow colleges to spend more of their time and money educating students, instead of filling out mountains of paperwork.”

The report claims the Clery requirement that colleges report incidents using definitions that can conflict with the Uniform Crime Reporting definitions and National Incident-Based Reporting System is confusing for campus law enforcement. The report recommends that the federal government rely on the Department of Justice to create standard definitions for crimes and that the Clery Act should require reporting on crimes as they are defined in the UCR or NIBRS.

Another area of concern was the Clery Act’s requirement for timely warnings about threats to campuses. The report claims the U.S. Department of Education’s regulations and guidance on this topic are confusing. Specifically, the task force says there is lack of clarity about the conditions constituting a “continuing threat” that would warrant a timely warning. This, the report claims, causes many institutions to issue warnings too frequently, which can create “warning fatigue.”

RELATED: Timely Warning vs. Emergency Notification: What’s the Big Difference?

The report recommends campus law enforcement have clear authority to user their judgment to determine when a serious and continuing threat exists.

The Clery Act’s definition of “noncampus property” is another regulation of concern listed in the report. It claims the definition is overly broad and unclear.

“Institutions must attempt to collect crime data from dozens, if not hundreds, of locations where students may reside or study for short periods of time if the institution uses the space in successive years or if students are present there for what the Department calls a ‘stay of long duration.’ (While advising campuses that they must report stays of ‘long duration,’ the Department has not offered a definition of this term.)”

The report says the current definition results in colleges expending a lot of time and resources tracking all of these locations and gathering crime data annually, only to have to settle for incomplete data.

“One institution has indicated that it requests data from 69 police departments, covering 348 locations in 13 states and five countries, including police at airports and on military bases,” the report says in providing an example of the challenges associated with noncampus property.

The report recommends the definition be clarified and narrowed.

Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), who are on the Senate education committee will participate in the hearing scheduled for Feb. 24.

Read the report.

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About the Author

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Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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