As we all know, many of today’s “hot topics” in higher ed focus around important, yet negative, issues such as sexual assault, sexual harassment, hate crimes, active shooters, rising tuition costs, budget cuts, inadequate aid packages, and substance abuse, to name a few. Data from many of our recent institutional research studies reflect this. Within the past year, “a safe campus environment” has increasingly become one of the most important attributes in the college decision-making process for prospective students and their parents, whereas in past years, it lagged well behind other attributes. In fact, in one recent study, “a safe campus environment” was selected by two-thirds of the College’s prospective students, more than any other attribute tested.
Because of the increased attention on campus safety, we decided to look at what some colleges and universities around the country are doing to demonstrate safety on their campus.
Campus safety information pages
Schools have websites in place to address information about animal complaints, crime logs, safety escorts, scams, and more. They are even including contact information for police departments and/or campus safety coordinators who students can contact if they need help such as an escort at night or to report an incident. The University of Virginia even includes specific tabs for different audiences like parents, faculty/staff, or students to help everyone more easily access the appropriate resources should an incident occur.
Some schools have implemented mobile safety apps for anyone on campus with a school email address. These apps have contact information for guardians, emergency call buttons, alcohol poisoning information, links to transportation options, and the option for users to send texts or photos to the department of public safety for any suspicious campus activities. A couple of years ago, The University of Florida developed a safety app that was designed to automatically send an alert when an earphone plug is yanked from the socket of a smartphone — potentially by an assailant (the user has 10 seconds to rescind the alert if it’s not an emergency).
Just recently, we were on a college campus where all faculty were attending a training course on what to do in the event of a campus shooter. This course was then going to be rolled out to all students during in-class training events. In addition to active-shooter trainings, various institutions have provided other safety programs related to alcohol awareness and self-defense.
It is becoming recognized as a best practice to issue emergency alerts without delay to ensure the campus community is notified as soon as possible of an emergency event. These alerts are via text, email, website, social media, and sirens.
In addition to developing tools designed to provide safety information and resources to the campus community, colleges and universities must also ensure that their front-line communicators have the necessary information to convey accurate and positive messages about campus safety. The impressions that prospective students and their parents take away from a campus visit will be significantly informed by the interactions they have with current students, faculty, and staff. These brand ambassadors must have the necessary information to confidently speak to safety issues for your campus.
What are you doing that demonstrates your campus is safe? Beyond talking about various aspects of campus safety, how are you showing it when students and parents are visiting campus? What information, tools, and actions will help alleviate their safety concerns?
Here at SimpsonScarborough, we have been contemplating how campus safety fits into a school’s proactive marketing efforts. Gone are the days that we can simply say that we are “safe” without having any questions asked. Now, more than ever, we need to clearly communicate, and truly demonstrate, what safety really means on our campuses.