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How Safe Are U.S. Campuses?

A group of international students sit out on their US university quad and study together in the sunshine

U.S. News Global Education and Shorelight have partnered to develop the University Safety Index. The USI was created to give international students and parents data-driven information and additional decision-making power about the safety of U.S. states/territories and university campuses.

Deciding where to study in the USA can involve a number of important factors for international students and their parents. In addition to tuition cost, program rankings, and job opportunities, safety on campus remains a top consideration.

While news headlines and social media shares can unfairly grab attention and raise concerns, the fact is overall crime rates on U.S. university campuses from 2001 to 2019 fell 32%, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Campus Safety and Security Survey.

Total Campus Criminal Offenses (Violent & Property Crime)

A line graph showing the reduction of criminal offenses on campus, dropping from 2001 to 2019

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Campus Safety and Security Survey, 2019

To counteract misleading headlines, U.S. News and Global Education (USNGE) and Shorelight — two leaders in U.S. higher education — have partnered to develop the University Safety Index to demonstrate how safe U.S. campuses are for international students.

“With the U.S. opening borders globally over the past few months, vaccination rates at an all-time high, and university campuses bustling with students, the global demand for a U.S. degree is once again on the rise,” says Imran Oomer, senior vice president of student acquisition for Shorelight. “At the same time, there are concerns from families around whether the U.S., and university campuses specifically, are safe destinations for international students.”

“We developed the University Safety Index to get to the facts around how safe U.S. universities really are,” continues Oomer. “We want to provide a useful tool that allows students, parents, and education counselors to evaluate safety on a university campus and to provide data-driven recommendations so they can identify the safest states to study in.”

“Perception of safety in the U.S. can often be misleading, with a wide array of media — including social media — often going unchecked for inaccurate or biased information,” says Benjamin Nicholson, associate director, China region, for U.S. News Global Education. “However, across universities, towns, and cities in the U.S., progressive changes centered around cultural diversity, respect, and inclusion for all are taking place, and the environment for international students continues to be highly favorable and welcoming. Users of the University Safety Index will be able to accurately and objectively analyze schools and locations for various safety factors, and make informed decisions.”

Key Takeaways: University Safety Index & Campus Crime Rates in the U.S.

A color-coded map of the US showing Extremely Safe states, very safe states, safe states, and somewhat safe states

According to U.S. Department of Education statistics and U.S. News Global Education’s University Safety Index:

  • The University Safety Index allows international students and parents to evaluate state and campus safety based on a unique indicator: states with higher international student enrollment.
  • According to the USI, 88% of states in the U.S. are considered “Extremely Safe” (15 states), “Very Safe” (20 states), or “Safe” (10 states). The remaining 12% (6 states) are considered “Somewhat Safe.”
  • Vermont, Massachusetts, Montana, and Ohio are the top four safest states in the U.S. for international students, according to the study, with the District of Columbia (city of Washington, D.C.) also included in the top five.
  • What media outlets aren’t reporting: Crime on university campuses in the U.S. dropped 32% (2001 to 2019), according to the U.S. Department of Education’s 2019 Campus Safety and Security Survey.
  • College communities and university towns are progressive, diverse, welcoming, and above all, safe. University campuses act as proven safe havens, thanks to large annual budget expenditures committed to campus security resources.

Part 1: What Is the University Safety Index, and Why Do International Students Need It?

Many education sites and news organizations have developed indexes, ranked lists, and other metrics on the campus safety for prospective students, but these analyses have taken a more general approach. The University Safety Index was designed specifically with international students in mind.

“Our index caters to international students who may not have strong familiarity with the state or city where a university is located,” says Brian Meagher, vice president of data science and strategy at Shorelight. “Our index is constructed at the state level, applies key data points on college campus safety, and includes ‘international student enrollment’ into the scoring rubric.”

University Safety Index Criteria & Methodology

The University Safety Index is weighted for international student enrollment to provide a more focused understanding for global students looking to study in the USA. Let’s take a look at the criteria, methodology, and sources used to develop the index:

  • Total student enrollment 1
  • International student enrollment 2
  • Total property crime incidents 3
  • Total violent crime incidents 4

“International students who are considering studying abroad in the U.S. want to understand the relative safety of a college community,” says Meagher. “By analyzing crime incidents data, then aggregating it at the state level, and considering other factors such as percent of international student enrollment, families have more definitive information about the safety of a given state, and therefore more decision-making power for a given study destination.”

In developing the University Safety Index, Meagher and his team utilized the Campus Safety and Security Data Analysis Cutting Tool, administered by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE). All U.S. postsecondary institutions that receive federal student loan and grant funding (including all U.S. News Global Education universities) must submit campus crime data annually to the OPE Campus Safety and Security Statistics database, as required by the Clery Act.

More on the University Safety Index methodology:

  • Data were retrieved from the Campus Safety and Security database at a campus level and aggregated by state.
  • 5,989 campus-level institutions in the United States’ 51 states and territories (including Washington, D.C.) were included.
  • Official enrollment numbers – both total student enrollment and international enrollment – were retrieved from the National Center for Education Statistics’ IPEDS database.
  • Two separate crime statistics were included, then aggregated by state:
    • Property Crime totals in 2019
    • Violent Crime totals in 2019
  • From there, “total enrollments by state” were divided by the “number of incidents” to create a metric called “incidents per 1,000 enrollments,” in order to place all states on the same level regardless of size. This resulted in two key submetrics:
    • Total Property Crime Incidents per 1,000 enrollments
    • Total Violent Crime Incidents per 1,000 enrollments
  • Then the team developed ranking categories and applied them to each state:
    • Extremely Safe
    • Very Safe
    • Safe
    • Somewhat Safe

Part 2: University Safety Index Key Findings, Analysis, and Standout Campuses

According to the University Safety Index analysis, 88% of states are considered “Extremely Safe” (15 states), “Very Safe” (20 states), or “Safe” (10 states). The remaining 12% (6 states) are considered “Somewhat Safe.”

A bar graph showing university safety categories ranging from Extremely Safe to Somewhat Safe

Sources: U.S. News Global Education/Shorelight, University Safety Index, 2021

Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, and Ohio were among the top five “extremely safe” areas with universities that featured a higher percentage of international students. Four U.S. News Global Education schools — American University (Washington, D.C.); University of Massachusetts Boston, University of Massachusetts Amherst (both Massachusetts); and University of Dayton (Ohio) — are located in the “extremely safe” category for international students.

University Safety Index: State Safety by International Student Enrollment Percentage

A dot graph showing states ranked from Somewhat Safe to Extremely Safe based on international enrollment percentages

Sources: U.S. News Global Education/Shorelight data analysis of U.S. Department of Education, Campus Safety and Security Survey, 2019, and U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

“Extremely Safe” States & Notable U.S. News Global Education Universities

USI Ranking State/Territory U.S. News Global Education School
1 District of Columbia American University, American Collegiate, DC
2 Vermont
3 Massachusetts University of Massachusetts Boston, University of Massachusetts Amherst
4 Montana
5 Ohio University of Dayton
6 Iowa
7 New Mexico
8 Indiana
9 North Carolina
10 Connecticut
11 Oklahoma
12 Pennsylvania
13 Missouri
14 Tennessee
15 Oregon


Now, let’s take a deeper dive into additional safety investments and testimonials from students at universities in two “extremely safe” states — University of Massachusetts Boston and American University.

University of Massachusetts Boston: Campus Safety Highlights

The University of Massachusetts Boston — also known as UMass Boston — is located in historic Boston, Massachusetts. With a Tier 1 ranking on U.S. News & World Report’s 2022 National Universities list, UMass Boston is known for its undergraduate engineering program (#62), business (top 150), computer science (top 200), and nursing (#43).

Before applying to universities in the USA, Chinese student Mingjie Y. — a sophomore at UMass Boston — says that he and his parents were admittedly concerned about news reports on social media regarding safety in the U.S.

“A lot of times, [the news is] very extremist and does not paint a realistic portrait.” — Mingjie Y., UMass Boston student. “I feel really safe on and around campus.”

“However, now that I’ve lived here, I have not experienced anything that made me feel scared or worried for my safety,” says the management major from Guizhou. “I feel really safe on and around campus. UMass Boston provides students with their full support on safety concerns — they take safety issues very seriously.”

Mingjie says the free shuttle bus on campus gives him peace of mind and he takes comfort in knowing UMass Boston has its own police department.

“If we do have a safety concern, we are encouraged to walk directly into the office and receive full support from them,” he says. “They treat international students fairly and have assured us that we can go to them for any matter, from security and safety to racial issues.”

His advice for international students and their parents looking at universities in the USA: “Have the correct mindset if you decide to come study in the U.S.,” Mingjie suggests. “You already have spent a lot of time and resources to come to study here, try not to let bad news change your course. A lot of times, it’s very extremist and does not paint a realistic portrait.”

University of Massachusetts Boston: Safety Programs and Resources

UMass Boston’s 120-acre campus is located in a secluded waterfront neighborhood of Boston. The university is committed to safety and security, including the following programs and resources:

  • UMass Boston has its own Public Safety department, with sworn police officers and security personnel on duty 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
  • All facilities are patrolled by UMass Boston Police Department 24 hours a day.
  • UMass Boston’s Safety Escorts program allows students (and all campus community members) to request an escort to and from any destination on campus 24 hours a day.
  • Massachusetts Campus Watch Program is a cooperative crime prevention program between students, staff, and the campus police.
  • The school’s emergency phone system, also known as “blue light” phones, features strategically placed phones throughout campus where students can immediately reach security.
  • UMass Boston’s Active Threat Preparedness Program, with an all-campus emergency alert system, includes clear protocols and lockdown procedures for bomb threats, active shooters, natural disaster preparedness, and other emergency situations.
  • Self-defense awareness, sexual assault prevention, and other community outreach and safety trainings are held on an ongoing basis.

American University: Campus Safety Highlights

American University (AU) is located in Washington, D.C., the U.S. capital city. Known for its diverse student population, American is ranked #79 on U.S. News & World Report’s 2022 National Universities list and its top-ranked programs include international business (#8), public affairs (#13), and management (#39).

American University student Milena C. — a public relations major from Paraguay — says she feels very safe on campus, thanks to the university’s safety programs and resources.

“The location of the university has a lot to do with how safe I feel,” says Milena. “I’ve had night classes that end at 10:50 pm and, initially, I was a bit scared of walking back home at night. However, never in my three and a half years at AU have I experienced something suspicious, thankfully. I also know that, if I ever fear the situation I am in, I can easily call the police or AUPD and trust that they will come immediately.”

The university’s escort program, campus security cameras, and blue light systems give Milena additional peace of mind.

“I really like that we have blue lights all over campus because it eliminates the inconvenience of having to make a phone call if you are in a dangerous situation,” she says. “Luckily, I’ve never had to use it — that also shows how safe our campus is! I’ve never heard from my friends that they’ve been in a dangerous situation at AU, and I doubt I ever will.”

American University: Safety Investments and Resources

American University is set on a picturesque 90-acre campus in Spring Valley, a residential neighborhood in northwest Washington, D.C. The university’s extensive safety and security programs and resources include:

  • Commissioned by the D.C .Metropolitan Police Department, the American University Police Department (AUPD) is comprised of 37 police officers.
  • Police escorts are available to and from any destination on campus 24/7.
  • 600+ security cameras and “blue light” phones are located on campus.
  • AU Rave Guardian Campus Safety smartphone app features a panic button, anonymous reporting, and digital “buddy” safety sessions.
  • The SafeRide taxi program allows stranded students to take a taxi to the AUPD, who will loan cab fare.
  • The school’s emergency preparedness program and AU Alerts on social media offer clear protocols and procedures for emergency situations.
  • Self-defense, crisis intervention, and other community outreach and safety trainings are regularly offered on campus.

Part 3: COVID Safety on U.S. Campuses

Since 2020, COVID preparedness and prevention has been a major focus for campus safety teams. Currently, vaccines are widely available to students in the U.S., and adoption rates rise daily. According to Our World in Data, which collects information from reporting countries, 56.1% of the world population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 71.9% of the U.S. population. That number jumps to 84.4% for people 18 and older in the U.S.

The U.S. is among the top 20 countries in the world for vaccination rates.

Country % of Population At Least One Vaccine Dose % of Population Fully Vaccinated
World 56.1% 46.3%
USA 71.9% 60.4%
China 84.8% 74.5%
India 58.7% 37.1%
Brazil 77.1% 65.3%
United Arab Emirates 98.9% 90.1%
Russia 48.1% 42.1%

Source: OurWorldinData.org COVID and Vaccinations, as of December 14, 2021.5

While COVID is still a global concern, international students should feel more assured when looking at state- and campus-level data. Thanks to university mandates and workplace compliance, vaccination rates are significantly higher on college campuses than in the general population.

Top 10: Vaccination Rates by State/Territory

State At least 1 dose Fully vaccinated
New Hampshire 92% 65.7%
West Virginia 89% 71%
Massachusetts 88.1% 73.3%
Vermont 87.3% 75.4%
Connecticut 86.2% 73.6%
Rhode Island 85.8% 74.9%
Washington, D.C. 84.8% 66.2%
Pennsylvania 84% 60.2%
Maine 83.7% 74.1%

Source: CDC COVID Data Tracker, December 14, 2021.

COVID Safety: Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., In Depth

In the United States, Massachusetts is third in the nation in vaccination rates, with 88% of the state population having received at least one dose, and 73% of the population being fully vaccinated. Washington, D.C., is #7 in the nation, with nearly 85% of the population having received at least one dose, and 66% of the population being fully vaccinated.

Vaccination rates are even higher on college campuses, with university officials such as Garrett Smith, deputy chancellor at UMass Boston, sharing that 99% of the campus community is fully vaccinated.

“We have had a safe return to in-person learning this semester,” Smith says proudly. “The number of positive cases on our campus has been low this semester and has had minimal impact on our on-campus operations.”

For updated information on UMass Boston’s vaccination rates, testing, and positive cases, visit their COVID Testing & Dashboard website.

UMass Boston also has expansive on-demand testing and tracing policies in place for breakthrough cases, and higher risk groups in the UMass Boston community (students living in residence halls, student athletes, students in performing arts classes, and the small number of individuals who have a vaccine exemption) receive regular asymptomatic testing to minimize the spread of coronavirus.

 “When a campus community member tests positive, we have a set of processes and protocols that are set into motion to promote safety for others on campus,” says Smith. “This includes contact tracing, testing, an appropriate quarantine policy, and clear communication to anyone who may have been exposed.”

Smith also says the university has taken additional steps toward safety, including upgraded HVAC systems and filtration, an indoor mask mandate, offering vaccine booster shots (and flu shots), and more:

  • All members of the UMass Boston community — students, faculty, and staff — as well as contractors and visitors are required to wear face coverings in public indoor spaces on the UMass Boston campus. In addition, face coverings must be worn in crowded outdoor settings.
  • UMass Boston facilities staff routinely cleans and maintains high-touch surfaces and common areas.
  • Hand washing, using hand sanitizer, and other routine hygiene practices are strongly encouraged.
  • All students and employees are asked to monitor their own health daily and review a daily COVID symptom checklist prior to coming to campus each day.
  • All UMass Boston HVAC systems have been upgraded and now operate with MERV-13 filtration, among the most efficient to filter out small airborne particles.
  • UMass Boston engaged an environmental consultant, Environmental Health and Engineering (EHE), which conducted a thorough study and engineering evaluation of the campus’s HVAC systems in relation to COVID-19 precautions. EHE helps university officials ensure ongoing guidance for safety operations.

Sharmeen Ahsan-Bracciale, managing director of American University’s International Accelerator Program, says international students and parents should feel reassured when it comes to COVID safety on campus.

American University requires COVID-19 vaccinations for all students, faculty, staff, and campus contractors. As of November 2021, approximately 98% of the AU community is vaccination compliant, with 99% of residential students fully vaccinated. (Unvaccinated AU community members must receive an approved exemption and are tested twice per week.)

Ahsan-Bracciale adds that ample “stop the spread” testing is available on campus free of charge and transparent protocols are in place.

“Vaccinated students, faculty, and staff are required to be tested if they are exposed to someone who has tested positive, if they exhibit COVID-19 symptoms, or if they choose to be tested for safety precautions. Any person experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, regardless of vaccination status, must get a COVID-19 test,” says Ahsan-Bracciale.

“Students and parents should be assured that AU International Accelerator staff are always here to help,” Ahsan-Bracciale continues. “If a student were to contract COVID, we guide them on protocols and next steps, such as assistance with reporting their case to the Dean of Students office, following up to see how they are doing, helping with any health insurance questions, and setting up food delivery if needed.”

Some additional COVID investments and protocols Ahsan-Bracciale wants prospective AU students to know about:

  • In-person instruction is capped at 50 persons per class.
  • All AU buildings have updated airflow systems that meet all CDC requirements.
  • Face coverings are required on campus, including indoors at all times, and outdoors when in groups of 25 or more people.
  • Hand-sanitizing stations are available at all building entrances and elevator lobbies.
  • The university follows C. Health guidance on cleaning and disinfecting practices.

Visit American’s COVID-19 Dashboard for updated information.

Student Safety Is Always a Priority for U.S. Universities

“International students should feel very confident in applying to universities in the USA. Media channels and social media can overamplify negative news reports regarding crime and safety in the U.S.,” says Meagher. “We encourage students and parents to look at the University Safety Index as one part of their research process to accordingly judge the safety of states and university campuses.”

Benjamin Nicholson of U.S. News Global Education concurs, suggesting students and parents use data-driven research tools like the University Safety Index to counterbalance misleading news headlines.

“What the news media isn’t highlighting is the major investments universities make in student safety, and the positive statistics around crime, such as the overall reduction in campus crime — down 32% between 2001 and 2019,” says Nicholson. “In addition to overall safety, U.S. universities are some of the only institutions in the world to enforce vaccine mandates on campus, resulting in close-to 100% vaccination rates whilst also maintaining stringent COVID-19 prevention protocols.”

“U.S. higher education institutions take safety seriously and have invested considerable resources in ensuring students of all backgrounds feel safe and welcome on campus,” says Nicholson. “We want parents and students to use the University Safety Index to analyze school locations, make informed decisions, and feel safe about studying in the USA.”


  1. U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics; Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS)
  2. U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics; Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS)
  3. U.S. Department of Education, Campus Safety and Security Survey
  4. U.S. Department of Education, Campus Safety and Security Survey
  5. Our World in Data, COVID Vaccinations
  6. Centers for Disease Control, COVID Data Tracker

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