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California State Auditor Report Number : 2015-032

California’s Postsecondary Educational Institutions
More Guidance Is Needed to Increase Compliance With Federal Crime Reporting Requirements



The U.S. Department of Education (U.S. DOE) has stated that choosing a postsecondary educational institution (institution) is a major decision for students and their families and, along with academic, financial, and geographic considerations, the issue of campus safety is a vital concern. To help inform students and their families about campus safety, the federal Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (Clery Act) requires all institutions that participate in federal student aid programs under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (Title IV) to publish annual security reports disclosing specified campus crime statistics and campus security policies.3 According to the U.S. DOE, the goal of safety‑ and security‑related laws such as the Clery Act is to provide students and their families with accurate, complete, and timely information about safety on campus so that they can make informed decisions as consumers of higher education. To this end, the U.S. DOE has promulgated regulations to implement the Clery Act, and it issued a handbook to assist institutions with compliance.

The Clery Act requires institutions to report statistics related only to certain crimes (Clery Act crimes), as shown in Appendix A. Clery Act crimes include assaults, arsons, robberies, and sex offenses. The institutions must report these statistics for the most recent and the two preceding calendar years. The Clery Act also requires institutions to report their statistics within the following specific location categories:

Figure 1 displays the process that institutions use to compile and report their crime statistics. The Clery Act requires the institutions to obtain crime statistics from campus security authorities, who include campus police, individuals who are not police or security but are responsible for campus security, officials who have significant responsibility for student and campus activities, and individuals or organizations identified in a campus’s security policy as responsible for receiving student and employee reports of criminal offenses. Institutions have also identified college deans and athletic team coaches, among others, as campus security authorities. The regulations also require the institutions to make a good faith effort to obtain crime statistics from local law enforcement agencies.

Figure 1
Process for Postsecondary Educational Institutions to Compile and Report Crime Statistics Under the Federal Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act

Figure 1, a flowchart of the process for postsecondary educational institutions to compile and report crime statistics under the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (Clery Act).

Sources: Federal law and regulations and The Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting, issued by the U.S. DOE’s Office of Postsecondary Education (2011 edition).

* For purposes of this report, we define the individual or individuals appointed by an institution to compile and report crime statistics under the Clery Act as the institution’s Clery Act coordinator.

Additionally, the Clery Act requires the institutions to include various campus policies, which we refer to as security policies, in their reports. For example, they must include their current policies related to alcohol and illegal drugs and to sexual assault. In addition, the regulations require institutions to disclose policies that include certain specified information, such as programs to inform students about campus security and prevention of crime. Institutions must also include their procedures for students and others to report criminal actions or emergencies occurring on campus.

The regulations specify that each institution must distribute its annual security report by October 1 of each year to all current students and employees, a requirement the institution can fulfill in a few ways, including by posting the report to its website or emailing students and employees. Each institution must also notify prospective students and employees of the report’s availability, provide a description of its contents, and state that it will provide the report upon request. As we describe in the Scope and Methodology, we found that all six of the institutions we reviewed adequately distributed their annual security reports to current students and employees and adequately notified prospective students and employees of the availability of those reports. Further, the regulations require each institution to submit its campus crime statistics to the U.S. Secretary of Education by the same deadline.

The passage of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (Reauthorization Act) amended the Clery Act to include additional crimes and conduct that campuses must track and report; it also requires campuses to include in their annual security reports specific security policy statements relating to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Under these Reauthorization Act provisions, which took effect March 7, 2014, institutions’ annual security reports must now include policy statements regarding, among other topics, their programs to promote awareness of and prevent domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking and the procedures the institutions will follow if such conduct occurs. Existing law already required policy statements regarding programs related to rape and acquaintance rape. In addition, the Reauthorization Act requires annual security reports to include statistics for reported crimes of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Further, it clarifies minimum standards for institutional disciplinary procedures, instructs campuses to provide additional and specified education programs for students and faculty, and establishes collaboration among the U.S. DOE, the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Attorney General, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop and disseminate best practices for preventing and responding to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

Although the regulations that implement the Reauthorization Act took effect in July 2015, the U.S. DOE issued guidance in May 2013 and July 2014 to inform institutions that until those regulations were effective, it expected them to make a good faith effort to comply with the requirements of the Reauthorization Act. According to the guidance the U.S. DOE issued in July 2014, it received numerous inquiries from institutions asking it to clarify institutional responsibilities under the Clery Act, as amended by the Reauthorization Act. In this July 2014 guidance, the U.S. DOE reiterated the guidance it provided in May 2013, which stated that it expected institutions to exercise their best efforts to include statistics for the new crime categories for 2013 in their annual security reports due in October 2014. Further, the guidance stated that institutions should use the Reauthorization Act as the basis for revising or developing policies, procedures, and programs in advance of those October 2014 reports. Therefore, because our review included these 2014 reports for six institutions, we assessed the extent to which each complied with the Reauthorization Act’s requirements.

The U.S. DOE reviews institutions to determine whether they comply with the requirements of the Clery Act, and noncompliant institutions may be subject to financial penalties. According to federal regulations, the U.S. DOE may impose a fine of up to $35,000 for each violation upon determination that an institution of higher education has misrepresented the number, location, or nature of the crimes reported under the Clery Act. According to its website, the U.S. DOE issued final determinations on campus crime program reviews of 29 institutions during 2011 through 2014, and it imposed fines on 17 of these institutions—none of which were California institutions. For example, in an April 2013 letter, the U.S. DOE informed Yale University that it intended to fine the institution $165,000 for the university’s failure to comply with the requirements of the Clery Act. In addition to issuing fines, the U.S. DOE may limit or terminate an institution’s participation in Title IV programs.

To provide guidance in meeting the Clery Act’s requirements, the U.S. DOE published in February 2011 its most recent version of the OPE handbook. The U.S. DOE makes this handbook available on its website, where it also provides an online tutorial, which is an audiovisual companion to the handbook. In addition to the guidance in the OPE handbook, the Clery Act requires that institutions use the crime definitions in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting Handbook when classifying certain Clery Act crimes. For other Clery Act crimes, federal law requires that institutions use the crime definitions outlined in the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 and the Hate Crime Statistics Act.

Scope and Methodology

Section 67382 of the California Education Code requires the California State Auditor (state auditor) to report the results of an audit of not fewer than six institutions that receive federal student aid to the Legislature every three years. This law requires the state auditor to determine the institutions’ compliance with the requirements of the Clery Act by evaluating the accuracy of the crime statistics they report and the effectiveness of the procedures they use to identify, gather, and disseminate these data. The state auditor previously issued audit reports on this subject in December 2003, January 2007, January 2010, and October 2012.

To obtain an understanding of the requirements of the Clery Act, we reviewed relevant federal laws and regulations as well as the OPE handbook. Using factors such as the type of institution (for example, public or private, academic or vocational), student enrollment, and geographic location, we selected six institutions at which we performed detailed audit work related to the accuracy of the crime statistics and the disclosure of campus security policies. The six institutions we visited and their locations are as follows:

To evaluate the accuracy and completeness of these crime statistics, we selected a portion of the crimes reported and examined each crime’s incident report from the institution’s security or police department.5 We also interviewed staff and reviewed relevant supporting documentation related to these crimes. We interviewed campus security authorities and knowledgeable staff at the six institutions about their processes for meeting Clery Act requirements and, when available, we reviewed relevant supporting documentation to identify the processes they used for collecting crime statistics. Federal regulations permit institutions to trust certain information they receive from outside agencies; specifically, regulations state that an institution “may rely on” information or crime statistics it receives from local law enforcement agencies. Therefore, institutions are not required to verify the accuracy of statistics they receive from local law enforcement. Consequently, we focused on the accuracy of the statistics that the institutions generated, and we did not audit the accuracy of the statistics the institutions received from local law enforcement.

To ascertain whether the institutions adequately disclosed all required security policies in their reports, we reviewed their most recent annual security reports and interviewed staff. To determine whether the institutions adequately notified current and prospective students and employees of the availability of their annual security reports, we reviewed relevant supporting documentation and interviewed staff. We found that all six institutions adequately notified current and prospective students and employees of the availability of their annual security reports.

Additionally, we surveyed 79 of the 573 California campuses that reported no Clery Act crimes to the OPE for 2013 to determine whether their procedures for compiling and distributing crime statistics would help ensure that they comply with the Clery Act if followed.6,7 Specifically, we asked about their practices for collecting their reportable crime statistics, verifying that the statistics they collected were complete and accurate, and notifying their current and prospective students and employees of the availability of their security reports. Because we used the survey data only to summarize assertions obtained directly from the survey respondents, we determined that we did not need to assess the reliability of those data.


3 Title IV, as amended, provides funding to eligible students in the form of Pell grants and other federal student aid, including direct loans. Go back to text

4 The U.S. DOE’s Office of Postsecondary Education’s (OPE) The Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting (OPE handbook) states that on‑campus student housing includes housing for officially and unofficially recognized student groups, including fraternity or sorority houses, that is owned or controlled by the institutions or is located on property that the institutions own or control. Go back to text

5 Before we started our audit, Stanford reviewed and revised the Clery Act crime statistics it reported to OPE for 2013. As a result, we audited Stanford’s revised statistics instead of those submitted to OPE. Go back to text

6 We initially surveyed 80 institutions; however, one of the institutions closed after we distributed our survey. Go back to text

7 These institutions reported no incidents that were classified as criminal offenses for Clery Act purposes in 2013. However, for Clery Act purposes, OPE categorizes and reports drug, liquor, and weapons arrests separately from criminal offenses. Therefore, when we identified the 79 campuses to survey, we excluded these categories in identifying the institutions making up the survey. Go back to text

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