Monmouth Mistakenly Named One of the “Most Dangerous Colleges in the U.S.”

Monmouth University was erroneously ranked as the “eighth most dangerous college in the United States” in an original report by StartClass published on Tuesday, Feb. 3 and shared by various news outlets including Fox43. An error was then identified in the original survey on Tuesday, Feb. 17 and Monmouth has since been removed from the list exactly two weeks after the report was released.

StartClass is a website which is a search engine style website geared toward college students to search and find college related articles that are relevant to them. The website originally listed the following schools as being the top 10 most dangerous: Winston-Salem State University (#10), Plymouth State University, Monmouth University,

Christopher Newport University, Butler University, Clarion University of Pennsylvania, Bradley University, Drake University, Alabama A & M University, SUNY College at Plattsburgh (#1). Monmouth was stated to have 174 number of incidents per student.

Upon circulation of the article on the internet, numerous individuals shared their doubtful
reactions on social media to the University’s ranking on this list. Among the buzz on social
media included: “Not gonna lie, I witnessed a murder on campus, a hawk viciously attacked a squirrel and killed it. And they didn’t even cancel classes,” jokingly posted Kelly Brockett, a 2014 public relations/journalism alumnus; “This is a joke right?” commented Zoe Bulitt, a senior theatre arts student; and “I didn’t realize that my time at MU was actually great training on how to live in dangerous environments like New Haven,” mocked Ryan Murphy, a 2014 alumnus.

University President Paul Brown upon alert of the StartClass ranking by several administrators knew there had to be a mistake in the findings. “Monmouth University is a very safe campus protected by its own police force with proven safety protocols in place, and an excellent track record,” he said.

Hilary Foss, Director of Public Relations for StartClass, explained that StartClass collected
all alleged criminal crimes (murders, forcible and non-forcible sex offenses, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft, and arson) reported on Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE), added up the number of incidences of each year from 2011 – 2013, and then calculated the average of those three years.

OPE’s methodology is conducted by the Campus Safety and Security Data Analysis Cutting Tool by the US Department of Education. As stated on OPE’s official website, “This designed to provide rapid customized reports for public inquiries relating to campus crime and fire data.”

“The data are drawn from the OPE Campus Safety and Security Statistics website database to which crime statistics and fire statistics are submitted annually, via a web-based data collection, by all postsecondary institutions that receive Title IV funding,” according to OPE’s website.

When questioned if certain crimes are factored as being more significant, such as murder in comparison to underage drinking, Foss replied the crimes are not weighted when crafting the list of “most dangerous” colleges.

Captain Dean Volpe of the Monmouth University Police Department (MUPD) said this methodology is both invalid and inaccurate as it relates to Monmouth. “I think it’s fair to assume that most people would make a distinction between crimes such as murder or sexual assault and underage drinking. That distinction was not made here, so the results
are misleading,” he said.

Karen Whitney, President of Clarion University in Pennsylvania, said, “We believed the story was inaccurate and misleading and had attempted to contact the reporter to discuss her research.”

After publishing the initial report, various publications picked up the report and disputed the Ranking continued from p. 1 information. StartClass heard from many schools that were on the list, including Clarion University, which then caused them to review the initial analysis. “[That] is when we realized that a mistake had been made,” said Foss.

Foss said the initial report was faulty due to an act of human error. “We included all reported crimes from 2005-2012, not just 2012. [Additionally] we counted the total number of unique types of crime at unique locations, rather than the raw number of incidences,” said Foss.

“This means that schools where crimes were committed at a wide variety of locations (ex: off-campus, on-campus, private property, etc.) and had a large number of crime types (ex: burglary, assault, etc.) were listed as the most dangerous, regardless of the total
number of incidences,” Foss continued.

StartClass then took down the initial story on their site, published a correction, and reached out to reporters and publications that had used the report in a story. A new analysis published on Feb. 17 on the data included a “much clearer” methodology of what
constituted a “dangerous” college, according to Foss.

As stated by Volpe, “Frankly, there are too many variables such as campus size, population numbers, setting (urban versus suburban), and size and type of police
force, to make an accurate or informative comparison.”

The most updated list ranks Reed College (#10), St. Augustine’s University, Swarthmore
College, Shaw University, Cheyney University, Gallaudet University, The Art Institute of
Pittsburgh, Central State University, Inter-American University of Puerto Rico-Barranquitas, and Benedict College as the top 10 most dangerous schools, with
Benedict College being named the most dangerous totaling an average of 152 incidents a year.

Patrick Murray, Director of the Polling Institute, skeptically said, “I couldn’t verify their results for any of the schools they listed, let alone Monmouth.” Although the list has now been “corrected,” Murray still has qualms about using the Clery database to create this type of list because the data are self-reported by the schools. He said, “Some schools are more likely to be aware of incidents on campus and report them, whileothers may not be as conscientious.”

William Reynolds, an adjunct professor of computer science, said, “Statistics do not lie, but liars do use statistics… As a senior citizen, I am very comfortable on campus, even after teaching evening classes or attending evening meetings.”

To ensure safety on Monmouth’s campus, Volpe said the following precautions are taken
by MUPD: a fully commissioned police department; more than 90 emergency phones across a 156 acre campus; educational programs revolving around alcohol consumption, sexual assault, and more; a 24-hour safe escort service; regular collaboration with
local law enforcement; and the use of Blackboard Connect, a communications system that connects students to the University instantly should there be an emergency.

Murray said, “This is a pointed lesson that you cannot trust everything you see on the internet.”