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Should College Rankings Include Rape And Assault Statistics?

Earlier this year, Vice President Biden met with representatives of student groups as part of the White House's Campus Sexual Assault Task Force.
Carolyn Kaster
Earlier this year, Vice President Biden met with representatives of student groups as part of the White House's Campus Sexual Assault Task Force.

The Princeton Review's college rankings can tell you which schools offer good value, where to find the swankiest dorms and whether a campus looks like something out of Reefer Madness. What those rankings don't tell you is whether your college pick has a rape and sexual assault problem.

The feminist group UltraViolet this week called on the Princeton Review to include such statistics in its publications. That information, UltraViolet argues in an online petition, "will motivate colleges across the country to get serious about the epidemic of campus rape."

The Princeton Review says that it will now link to campus security pages on its website, information that it has not previously included.

"Over the 2013-2014 academic year as news reports of crime — including very disturbing reports of sexual assaults — on college campuses increased, we look to ways we could responsibly collect and report information that would be helpful to the students, parents and advisers we serve," Rob Franek, Princeton Review's senior vice president and publisher, said in a statement.

The Princeton Review statement made no mention of the petition.

UltraViolet's petition didn't suggest how to quantify the way schools handle rape and sexual assaults, or how colleges could or should work to prevent them. Data mandated by the Clery Act, a federal law that requires public disclosure of campus crime statistics, can shed some light. But because sexual assault is a drastically underreported crime, even that might not give potential students and their families an accurate picture. Clery Act statistics only include rapes and assaults that are reported to police or campus officials.

What's more, advocates argue that campus safety websites maintained by universities are unlikely to paint an unbiased picture of life on campus, whether it comes to crimes such as rape and sexual assault or behaviors as trivial as partying after hours. College and university websites are recruiting tools, after all.

Cracking down on campus rape and assault is a goal shared by the Obama administration and some members of Congress. Among the administration's recent recommendations is that colleges collect more information in the form of anonymous surveys of students, adopt tougher measures designed to prevent assaults, and take steps to better ensure privacy and confidentiality for victims.

The government has, a website that tracks enforcement and provides victims and survivors with more information.

The idea that college ratings should include information about sexual assault and rape has also been raised in Congress. A dozen House lawmakers pressedU.S.News & World Report to include violence statistics in its ratings.

In a blog post late last month, U.S. News responded, saying it "does not factor in overall campus life or culture, whether positive or negative, including campus crimes or reporting of sexual violence" in its rankings.

"We believe that the indicators we use to measure academic quality are independent from campus crime statistics and proper handling of crime reporting," U.S. News' director of data, Robert Morse, wrote.

A spokesman for the publication told National Journal that the information provided by the Department of Education is "not usable to measure relative campus safety among colleges."

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Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.