Crime in California’s Most Prestigious Schools


Choosing the right college is an extremely difficult decision for a teenager to make. Sometime during high school, teens are expected to make decisions about what career path they want to peruse, what they want to do and where they want to live. When selecting a college, students usually consider the majors offered at the school, the extracurricular activities, and the location of the school. One factor that is often overlooked when selecting a college is the safety of the campus.

On almost every college campus across the nation, crime is an unfortunate reality. Some campuses, however, have much more crime on them than others. California is home to some of the most prestigious colleges and universities in the country, but it is also home to some of the most dangerous. People travel from across the world to attend school in California, but many do not know the risks they may be taking just by going to school.

Of the four-year universities in California with more than 5,000 students, there is a great deal of variation in the rate of crime and in the types of crime that occur. Many people look to more prestigious, higher ranked schools and assume that these schools are the safest. If a school has a high ranking, it must mean that it is safe right? Because people do not want to go to a dangerous school, right? It is easy to make this assumption but in many circumstances, especially in California, this is not the case. Some of the most prestigious schools in the state, in fact, are considered to be the most dangerous. Should the added danger affect the ranking of the school? Should people attend schools even if they know that the campus may be dangerous? These are just a few questions that students and parents across the country need to be asking themselves before they make the life-changing, and possibly life-threatening decisions about going to college.

The Case of California

So why look at just schools in California? There are universities and colleges across the world and they all have differing crime rates, what makes California schools so special to study? California is by many accounts, the most well-known state in the country. People from all over the world have heard of California because of its booming film industry in Hollywood and its countless opportunities. Not only is California a major hub for the tech industries of the world, it is also a very important state in terms of agriculture, oil, aerospace, and environmental studies. It is home to nine national parks and over one hundred state parks, and it is the state with the highest revenue from tourism in the entire country. California has schools that specialize in almost everything. There are metropolitan cities, small towns, forest, deserts, and everything in between. Because of the enormous amount of diversity in the state, California is a perfect place to make observations that could potentially apply to the rest of the country. The state is full of different environments whereas smaller states have less diversity. By making connections between school rank and crime rate in California, one can better understand connections in the whole country.

University Ranking and Crime Rate

When selecting a college, many parents and students look at a college’s ranking to see if the school is worth applying to. There are a number of different ways that colleges can be ranked, such as by academics, by student opinion, by professor credentials, etc. In order to properly compare a college’s ranking to the crime rate on campus, we had to make sure to use a ranking method that was fair and unbiased. After much research, we determined that the organization 4 International Colleges and Universities had the most comprehensive and unbiased strategy for ranking colleges. The organization is a non-paid directory that compares recognized, licensed and accredited national universities that are officially entitled to grant four-year undergraduate degrees and/or post graduate degrees. The algorithm to determine rank uses data from Google Page Rank, Alexa Global Rank, and Majestic Referring Subsets and Trust Flow in order to minimize fluctuations in data and maximize accuracy. Essentially, it compiles data on the ranking of colleges from many different sources and puts them all together to rank schools based on many different and important factors. Spending the time to find the most accurate ranking system possible was extremely important to see the true correlation between school ranking and crime rate.

Many schools like Stanford, Berkeley and UCLA at the top of the list for highest ranked school and become convinced that those schools are the right choice. Parents and students would be alarmed to find, however, that these prestigious schools have some of the highest crime rates in the state. The United States Department of Education records all crimes that occur on college campuses throughout the year, and then is required by law to make this information publicly available. The Campus Crime Statistics Act and Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy were both put in place to provide an accurate picture of crime on college campuses. They record incidents of arrests on campus, disciplinary action taken by the school, fires, hate crimes, and crimes that fall under the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 such as domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking. In order to get the most comprehensive picture of crime on college campuses, we looked at criminal offence data that includes records for aggravated assault, arson, burglary, forcible assault, murder, negligent manslaughter, non-forcible sex offences, robbery and vehicular theft. Data from 2012-2014 was examined and analyzed to find the relationship between crime rates and high ranking colleges in California.

The above image shows the crime rate at colleges with over 5,000 students across California, with the large bubbles having high crime rates. Quickly, one can see that many of the colleges that are ranked at the top in California have higher crime rates. Further analysis shows that the top ten highest ranked colleges in California are all featured on the top 15 schools with the highest crime rates. The top three schools, Stanford University, University of California Berkeley, and University of California Los Angeles respectively, are also the top thee schools with the highest crime rate, except UCLA has a crime rate higher than UCB by a mere 0.02%.

Although many of the colleges in California with higher crime rates are ranked higher when compared to other schools, there is no overall statistical correlation between the two variables. There are some schools with high crime rates that are ranked poorly, and some schools with low crime rates that are ranked highly. Below is a chart that compares the top five highest crime rates to the bottom five lowest crime rates in California colleges with more than 5,000 students.

Top 5 and Bottom 5 in the chart below:

The University of California Merced was found to have the lowest crime rate among these schools with a rate of 0.96 crimes per 1,000 students, but it is ranked as the 35th best school in California. Biola University has the second lowest crime rate with 1.73 crimes per 1,000 students, but it is ranked as the 38th best school in the state. This shows that even though many of the top schools have high crime rates, schools do not have high crime rates because they are high in rank.

Even without a statistical correlation, the trend of high ranking schools having high crime rates in undeniable. In this chart, the larger the circle, the higher the crime rate. The chart puts schools in order of rank and shows the different crime rates of schools, separated by calendar year. The graph has very little variation from year to year, which shows that the crime rate of schools in California is relatively consistent. Schools that rank between 30th and 45th have relatively small crime rates when compared to schools that rank in the top twenty.

Types of Crimes

There are a number of diverse factors that influence how often crime occurs at a school and what types of crimes occur. From campus to campus, there are many different types of crimes that are present. The rates of crime vary from one school to another and some schools are more likely to see certain types of crime than others.

The distribution of crimes from one campus to another can be seen in the bar graph below. As one can see, some crimes that are frequent on some campuses have not happened at all during the compared time that this data was recorded (2012-2014). For example there was a rate of ten aggravated assault per 1,000 students at Stanford University and the same rate at the University of California San Diego campus. Both of these schools fall in the top five schools in California according to rank. The Academy of Art University had a rate of six aggravated assaults per 1,000 students, and it is ranked as 43rd when compared to other universities in California.

Thankfully, there are many crimes that do not occur frequently on any the campuses in California that were examined. From 2012-2014, there were no recorded murders or negligible homicides on any California campus with over 5,000 students. Of all of the potential crimes that students may worry about, these are very unlikely to occur at California schools. Some crimes, like arson for example, follow no discernable pattern in terms of school ranking.

Chapman University has the highest reported rate of arson with 1.59 incidents per 1,000 students, and University of California at Santa Cruz has he second highest rate with 0.84 incidents per 1,000 students. Chapman University is ranked as the 36th best school in the state and University of California at Santa Cruz is ranked as the 12th in the state. Crimes like fondling and statutory rape also seem to follow no discernable pattern.

Burglary is one type of crime that is consistently higher in higher ranking schools. The rate of burglaries that occur per 1,000 students is highest at Stanford University, followed by University of California Los Angeles and University of California Berkeley respectively. No lower ranked schools have burglary rates even half as high as the ones that can be found at these extremely prestigious schools. That means that despite the fact that students are getting a world renowned education on these campuses, they still attend a school where a least seven of every hundred people are burglarized. It is likely that every student on campus knows at least one student that has been affected by burglary at these top ranked schools. The rate of vehicular thefts follows the same pattern, as does the more troubling crime of forcible sex offenses. These crimes all have rates that are significantly higher in the top ten ranked schools than they do at schools with lower rankings.

Campus Profile: Stanford University

Not only is Stanford University the top ranked school in California, it is also the fourth highest ranking school in the country. Stanford is located on the San Pablo Bay between San Francisco and San Jose, California. It is a private college with a little over 17,000 students, and it is world renowned for its programs in Education, Engineering, Medicine and Business. Despite its prestige, Stanford is plagued with higher crime rates than any other college in California.

During 2012, Stanford topped the state with the highest rate of burglary, at 102 incidents per 1,000 students. It has the highest rate of forcible assault, with 26 incidents per 1,000 students and is tied with California State University Fullerton Campus for the third highest rate of vehicular theft. It is tied with the University of California San Diego for the highest rate of aggravated assaults, with ten incidents occurring per 1,000 students. That year there was one robbery, no arsons, no murders, no negligent manslaughters, and no non-forcible sex offenses. Although the school has some of the highest rates for some crimes, it has very low rates for others. Other years express similar patterns and show Stanford with the highest overall crime rate, but with low rates for some specific crimes.

Does this mean that students who do not want to get burglarized should not attend Stanford? Not at all. Stanford is one of the most prestigious schools in the country for many reasons, and it is despite its higher-than-average crime rate, the education that the school can provide is invaluable. It does mean, however, that students attending the university should be particularly cautious of themselves and of their belongings.

Brad Hayward, spokesman for Stanford University, explained that at Stanford, many of the crimes that occur can be attributed to the fact that the campus is so large and that there are very large residential areas. Not only are there multiple dorms and apartments for students to lie, there are also apartments for faculty and staff. Almost all undergraduate students and half of the schools graduate students live on campus, and so the rate of on campus burglaries is particularly high. Hayward also explains that the school spends a great deal of effort encouraging the reporting of sexual offenses to the police, and because of this, the reported rate is higher. He alludes to the idea that at other schools, there may be higher rates of unreported sexual crimes that occur. He ensures, however, that the campus has a competent and dedicated police force that provides students and staff with a great deal of safety and security.

Potential Explanations

Brad Hayward gives many points about Stanford’s crime rate that can be applied to other schools as well. Crime rates are affected by a number of potential factors, one of the largest being the housing situations on and off campus. Stanford has a very high number of students who live on campus, especially among undergraduate students. University of California Merced, however, only guarantees housing to a small number of students, and it much more selective with its housing application process. University of California Merced has more limited housing that is harder to get, hand it also has an extremely low rate of on campus burglaries. California State Polytechnic University Pomona Campus has a total of 2.21 per 1,000 rate of car thefts, and it also happens to be a college that has a very high number of commuter students. Because most students commute rather than live on campus, there is also a significantly lower rate of on campus burglaries that occurs. The housing situations of campuses inevitably have a large impact on the crime rates of those schools.

Another potential explanation for the varying rates of crime on campuses in California is the potential for varying rates of reporting crime. As Brad Hayward of Stanford explained, Stanford has programs in place that encourage students to report sexual offenses. These programs exist across the country for all types of different crimes. Because of programs like these and because of the varying composition of student bodies, some students may be more likely to report crimes than others. Studies have shown that people do not report crimes for a number of reasons including but not limited to: a fear of reprisal, lack of faith in the police, belief that the crime was not important enough to report, or because people dealt with the crime outside of the law. Between 2006-2010, approximately 76% of violent crimes that occurred at schools were not reported to the police. In recent years, however, this rate has been declining. At some schools the rate of reporting has went up more than it has at others, which means that many schools may have a higher reported crime rate but lower crime.

A third potential explanation for the disparities in crime rates is the different environments that these college campuses are in. University of California Los Angeles is located in one of the most metropolitan cities in the world, and in high density cities there is often higher crime rates. The campus is right in the center of the city, and it has a significantly higher rate of crime than the University of La Verne, for example. Which is located in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.

By viewing this map, one can clearly see that schools located in large city centers are more likely to have high crime rates than those in smaller cities or outside of cities. On campus crime rates can easily be affected by poverty and crime in areas surrounding the campus. Criminals living near campuses have easier access and could go to campuses with the intention of committing crimes because of the proximity. Students living in areas of high crime could also be motivated to commit more crimes after seeing the higher crime rates around them.


Imagine that you are a parent, soon to be sending your child away to college. You have taken care of them for eighteen years, and it is finally time for them to be on their own. You want to send them to the best school possible so that they have a chance of a good future. Many parents would be shocked and scared to learn that they places that they are sending their children that have such high rankings also have high crime rates. Overall, crime rates in California schools are an important issue to be aware of, especially as a potential student or as a parent. Regardless of the reasons why, there are many very prestigious schools in California that have alarmingly high crime rates. It is important for parents and for future students to be aware of these differing rates and prepare themselves for them in order to be as safe as possible. College is supposed to be a positive experience and is a critical time in the lives of young people. Students will be faced with new and exciting experiences, but they must be aware that with the new opportunities come some new dangers.

Crime is a phenomena that is prevalent all over the country, not just in California. No matter where you decide to go to college, there is always going to be the chance that something bad may happen. The most important thing for future students to remember is that by being smart and being safe, you can do a pretty good job at avoiding any or all of these crimes. Simple steps such as locking doors, keeping belongings close, and always walking with a friend are great ways to stay safe on and off campus. College is about education, and as a student, you can learn in many ways. You learn about academics, and you also learn plenty more about life. Students and parents should not be discouraged by the crime rates in these prestigious California schools, but instead focus on the wonderful education that students receive when they are there.




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