6 Things High School Counselors Can Do to Keep Their Graduating Students Safe In College

Students graduating from high school and moving onto college need to understand campus security basics like the Clery Act, emergency notification, and other safety measures.
Published: April 14, 2022

National College Decision Day (May 1) is quickly approaching. This is the deadline for students who are going on to college to commit where they will spend the next four or more years of their life. This is a highly consequential decision, and one that K-12 schools spend 13 to 14 years preparing their students for, academically. As students approach this decision point, college and career counselors come along side them to help weigh various factors involved in the decision-making process: is there a specific program the student wants to study? What kind of college experience does the student want? How much will it cost, etc.?

There is one important factor that is often left out of the calculus and preparation for college: safety. Having worked in higher education public safety, I’ve seen the damage that this lack of awareness can have on students. Since schools expend a great deal of effort preparing their students academically for higher education, shouldn’t they protect their investment by preparing them for college safety as well?

Isn’t that the college’s job? Sure. Incoming students are typically required to complete some form of safety-related online training, and there is usually a topic on safety during orientation. However, online trainings are rarely engaging, and new students are bombarded with all sorts of other information during orientation, making it so safety information can easily be drowned out.

High school college and career counselors can play a pivotal role in laying a foundation of safety for their college-bound students. Below are six things high school college and career counselors can do to help prepare their outbound students to be safe while in college. In addition, because many students are engaged in dual enrollment programs where they might spend some time on local college campuses, the information below will help those students now, just as much as it will help your college-bound students this fall.

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1. Know Before You Go: Read the Campus Annual Security Report

College safety starts before a decision is even made about where to attend. In 1986, a freshman at Lehigh University named Jeanne Clery was raped and murdered in her on-campus dorm room. Jeanne’s parents later discovered that there had been dozens of serious crimes that had reportedly taken place at the university during the preceding three years. The Clerys argued that had they known about the reports, they would not have sent their daughter to attend the university. A few years later, the law commonly referred to as the Clery Act was passed.

The Clery Act requires institutions of higher education to disclose campus-specific safety information. The required disclosures can be broken down into three categories: annual, ongoing, and immediate. The annual disclosure requirement is the Annual Security Report (ASR).

This report contains high-level crime trend information – not granular details about any specific crime – as well as current campus safety policies. It provides three years’ worth of aggregated statistics for specific crimes reported (known as “Clery crimes”), broken down by the year the crime was reported and general location. ASRs are only published once a year, and unlike the other disclosure requirements, information about the report must be provided to prospective students in addition to current campus community members. This is a direct remedy to the blind spot encountered by the Clerys and gets to the heart of why the Clery Act was enacted in the first place: to give prospective students (and their parents) safety information before committing to a college so they can make a fully informed decision when doing so.

What Counselors Can Do

Make sure students and their parents are aware of the ASRs of the institutions they are considering, or better yet, go through the reports with them. Not only will students get a high-level view of reported crime trends year-over-year, you may also be able to use the data in the report and apply it to your student’s particular situation.

For example, suppose you are counseling a student who does not want to attend a “party school.” Two of the crimes that must be disclosed in Annual Security Report are drug and liquor law violations. While not dispositive, comparing these statics can be helpful for students and families as they consider what institution might be the best fit for them.

Most institutions post these reports online, and they can usually be found somewhere on the college’s public safety website or somewhere on the student application page. If not posted online, institutions are required to supply a copy of these reports upon request. No matter how you do it, having these reports readily accessible will allow your students to gain a broad understanding of crime statistics and safety mechanisms at each college they are considering attending.

2. Read The Daily Crime Log

The ongoing disclosure requirement is the Daily Crime Log. The Clery Act requires campuses that have a security or police department to publish and maintain a Daily Crime Log that provides a detailed look at reported crimes for the most recent 60 days. While the statistics in the ASR provide a 1,000-foot view of certain reported crimes (Clery crimes) year-over-year, the Daily Crime Log allows you to zoom in and get more detailed, up-to-date information about reported crimes occurring on or near campus.

Unlike the Annual Security Report, the Daily Crime log shows: the specific date and time a crime occurred, the nature of all crimes reported (not just Clery crimes), a campus-specific location of where the crime occurred, and what is being done about it. Entries to the log must be made within two business days of receiving a report, so observers can get current information about campus crime reports. However, there is no requirement to provide information about the Daily Crime Log to prospective students, so this information must be sought out.

What Counselors Can Do

Counselors should encourage students and their parents to look at the Daily Crime Logs of the campuses they are considering attending. Reviewing both the ASR and Daily Crime Log before making a decision about college will allow your students to glean both a macro and micro-level understanding of reported campus crime, and will allow them to make a more informed decision about what college they want to attend.

Just like with the Annual Security Reports, it would be helpful for counselors to know how to quickly access the Daily Crime Logs of the campuses their students are considering attending. Most campuses post their logs online on the college’s public safety website, but if they don’t, they must be provided to anyone who requests them without charge.

3. Opt Into Campus Emergency Notification Systems

Now that we’ve covered aspects of safety to review with your students prior to their decision about what college to attend, let’s shift focus to how they can be safe once they arrive on campus. The Clery Act requires colleges to immediately notify their campus community of significant emergencies or dangerous situations occurring on campus. This is the third category of safety disclosures required by the Clery Act.

Most campuses send emergency notifications using some combination of email, text, and phone call. All enrolled students will get the notification via their student email account, but colleges differ on which students will receive notifications automatically via text and phone call – which are the better options in an emergency. Colleges either engage in an “opt in” or “opt out” approach when it comes to sending students emergency notifications via texts and phone calls.

The opt out approach is one where enrolled students automatically receive emergency messages via text and phone call, and they must specifically opt out if they do not wish to receive emergency messages in these ways. Conversely, the opt in approach is one where enrolled students do not automatically get emergency messages via text and phone call, and they must specifically opt in to receive them.

What Counselors Can Do

Encourage your students to go through any steps necessary to enroll in the emergency notification system that allows them to receive notifications via text and phone calls before they arrive on campus. An emergency may happen on their first day on campus, and responding quickly is critical.

Instructions for how to opt in should be included in Annual Security Reports and are also often posted on the college’s webpages – usually those of either the public safety or emergency management department. In addition, many institutions also send their emergency notifications out through their public-facing social media accounts. Counselors may want to encourage students and their parents to follow the social media pages of the public safety department and main institutional account of their chosen campus. Doing so will broaden the ways they can receive important safety information related to campus.

4. Designate A Missing Person Contact

New students are almost always asked to provide an emergency contact, which is usually a parent or guardian. For those institutions that offer on-campus student housing, the Clery Act requires that students living on campus also be given the option to designate a separate contact person(s) specifically for the purpose of conducting a missing person investigation. Per the Clery Act, if a student living on campus is determined to be missing, the missing contact person(s) and law enforcement must be notified within 24 hours.

What Counselors Can Do

Designating a specific missing person contact usually takes place during the housing enrollment process. Counselors should encourage their students who plan to live on campus to take advantage of this resource and to designate more than one missing person contact. The more people who might be able to provide information about your student’s whereabouts in the event they go missing, the better. As a recommendation, encourage the student to designate as missing person contacts their parents or guardians, someone they talk to frequently, such as a friend or sibling, and someone the student will regularly interact with on campus, such as a roommate.

5. Lock Up Your Bike

There is one college crime that outpaces all others by a wide margin: bike theft. Bikes are the main source of transportation for many students, and every year there are a new crop of them on campus. The problem is that many of these bikes are not secured with a durable lock and are quickly and easily stolen. I can recall instances where someone with bolt cutters was able to rehome a bike that had been locked with a cable lock within a matter of seconds.

What Counselors Can Do

Find out if the student you are counseling plans on taking their bike with them to college. Then, find out if they wish to keep their bike. If so, strongly encourage them to buy a durable bike lock before they leave for college, such as a U-lock. In addition, on many campuses, bikes can be registered with a campus police or security department. This allows police or security to locate an owner in the event a stolen bicycle is later recovered. Encourage your students to register their bike online before they leave for college, if possible, or encourage them to make it a priority to do so in-person once they get there.

6. Pre-load Campus Security Resources

Institutions of higher education have a lot more security-related resources than K-12 schools. Many of the same types of resources are offered by the majority of colleges, and it would benefit incoming students to have them pre-loaded and ready to use by the time they arrive on campus. Below are some of the more common, and usually free, safety resources offered on college campuses:

  • Security escorts. Most campus police and security departments offer a security escort service, and many offer this 24/7. This can be helpful in situations like if your student stays late at the library studying and doesn’t want to walk back to their car or dorm room alone in the dark. They can contact the police or security department and be escorted by an officer to wherever they want to go around campus.
  • Car unlocks and jumpstarts. In the event your student locks their keys in their car, or their car won’t start, many college police and security departments offer vehicle unlock and jumpstart services, and usually offer this 24/7.
  • Campus safety apps. Many institutions offer a campus safety app that can be used for a variety of purposes, including turning your student’s phone into a mobile panic button, submitting anonymous reports, texting the campus public safety office, setting up a virtual buddy system, and more.

What Counselors Can Do

Have your college-bound students save their college’s public safety office phone number as a contact on their phone. If they need an escort, vehicle unlock or just need to report an emergency, having this number saved and ready to go will be helpful.

Regarding safety apps, try and determine if they are being used at the schools your students have committed to. Some may use Rave Guardian, LiveSafe, or another app. Whatever is used, have your students install the app on their phones before they leave for college, and explore the different features with them so they will have an idea of how the app can be used.

K-12 schools work hard for more than a decade to prepare their students for college. High school college and career counselors can help them embark on the next stage of their academic career as safely as possible by leveraging the rights and resources afforded to them.

Elliot Cox is a school safety analyst for the Idaho School Safety and Security Program, and can be reached at elliot.cox@dbs.idaho.gov.

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