Safest Colleges in Florida
Student safety in a particular location depends significantly on the attitudes and habits of the individual living or visiting there. When it comes to college campuses, much of student safety hinges on the physical location of the school because students rarely stay strictly within the boundaries of the campus, and the surrounding community will likewise mingle with students.
Florida has more than 150 colleges and universities, including at least 70 public college campuses and 12 public, four-year universities with almost 700,000 students. There are an additional 26 accredited religious schools and universities, 25 trade and technical schools, and more than 35 private institutions of higher education. Campuses range from secluded tracts in small towns to high-rise buildings in major cities.
Types of Campus Crime
Over the last decade, campus crime in general has declined significantly despite the composition of college populations remaining about the same: young, energetic people away from home for the first time, interested in exploring many ways of enjoying themselves, and bringing with them expensive gadgets like computers, musical instruments, and the latest phones.
One segment of campus crime that has risen over time is hate crimes, which went from 75 incidents across the country in 2006 to over 1,300 in 2016, according to the Department of Education.
Typical campus crimes are burglaries, auto theft, and forcible sexual contact like rapes. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, burglaries peaked in about 2006 and have fallen by nearly 20,000 incidents per year since then. Forcible sex, however, has increased from about 3,000 per year in 2009 to nearly 9,000 per year in 2016.
Consider the school’s reputation when weighing the safety of students there. If there’s a gritty, urban neighborhood surrounding the school buildings where pawn shops and payday loan businesses dominate, crime is likely to be higher than a tiny, landscaped campus near a small town. Likewise, college policies and procedures affect the crime rate at every school. Here are some things to research before going:
- size and staffing of the campus police force;
- the annual campus security report;
- policies that require in-house settlement of criminal complaints;
- availability of campus safety escorts after dark;
- jurisdiction of local police on campus;
- the college’s compliance with the Clery Act, and
- information on campus crime from student leaders.
The Clery Act
Aside from local news reporting on campus crime, it’s important to find out if a college or university is in compliance with the Clery Act. This is a law that links federal financial aid to regular crime reports from campuses. To do so, the college must keep track of criminal issues and write a report at least annually. A school’s Clery Report is supposed to include information about incidents of murder, robbery, aggravated assault, domestic violence, date rape, arson, and arrests. In addition, they should document hate crimes and liquor and drug law violations. Included in these reports is information about incidents that happen in school buildings that are off-site as well as on properties adjacent to the campus.
Students who go to college intending to party and cause an uproar or who seek out and intentionally enroll at a “party school” for the extracurricular activities could be more likely to run afoul of laws and crime than those who are serious students. These are the students who’ll venture to sketchy neighborhoods in search of a party or who will be out walking across a city in the wee hours of the morning, under the influence and vulnerable to criminals. Students who are lax about personal safety or the safe keeping of their possessions are more likely to have issues with theft than those who leave expensive items at home or who are careful about locking them up.
Safest Colleges and Universities in Florida
Two of the state’s biggest campuses were named to Princeton Review’s list of the 20 party schools in the country, University of Florida and Florida State University. Located in the city of Tallahassee, the highest-crime city in the state, the 41,000-student campus of Florida State University shows up on FBI reports as the most dangerous institution of higher education in the state with an average of 25 incidents of violent crime in recent years and 13 rapes in a recent year. The school also reports over 400 property crimes and over 350 larcenies. University of Central Florida, in Orlando, likewise is a big school with over 61,000 students and a commensurate crime rate with about 19 violent crimes per year and over 200 incidents each of property crimes and larcenies.
These statistics contrast with smaller schools in smaller communities, like the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg, where there are about 4,300 students, no reported violent crimes, and just 40 property crimes in a recent year. Likewise, Santa Fe College in Gainesville has about 15,000 students, no violent crimes reported, and just 24 property crimes. Other similarly safe schools include:
- Florida South Western College in Fort Myers;
- Pensacola State College, and
- Florida Gulf Coast University.
According to a ranking established by Niche.com after evaluating schools for campus and nearby crime rates, rates of violent crimes, and student surveys on crime, these are the safest colleges and universities in Florida:
25. Palm beach Atlantic University, Palm Beach;
24. Florida State College at Jacksonville;
23. Pensacola State College;
22. Polk State College at Winter Haven;
21. Southeastern University at Lakeland;
20. Nova Southeastern in Fort Lauderdale;
19. Santa Fe College, Gainesville;
18. Palm Beach State College, Lake Worth;
17. Broward College, Fort Lauderdale;
16. Miami Dade College, Miami;
15. Eastern Florida State College, Cocoa;
14. Seminole State College in Sanford;
13. Everglades University in Boca Raton;
12. Florida Polytechnic in Lakeland;
11. Lake-Sumter State College, Leesburg;
10. St. Thomas University, Miami;
9. Indian River State College, Ft. Pierce;
8. College of Central Florida, Ocala;
7. Chipola College, Marianna;
6. Valencia College, Orlando;
5. St. Johns River College, Palatka;
4. Kaiser University, Fort Lauderdale;
3. Rasmussen College, Ocala;
2. St. Petersburg College, Clearwater, and
1. Northwest Florida State College, Niceville.