Digest No. 03 - August 2017

Evaluating the Impact of Crime and Discipline on Student Success in Postsecondary Education

Schuck, A.M. 2017. “Evaluating the Impact of Crime and Discipline on Student Success in Postsecondary Education.” Research in Higher Education, 58, 77–97.

Summary of the Article

Amie M. Schuck situates serious violent crime rates and disciplinary action within the context of college student success.  She asserts that violent crimes committed on or around college campuses can have both direct and indirect effects on the academic achievement of students that may lessen their chances of graduating within four years of their initial enrollment. Violent crimes include offenses against individuals such as rape, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated battery. Schuck asserts that victims of such violent crimes may experience both psychological trauma and physical injury. She posits that fear of crime also results from violent crimes. Fear of crime generates feelings of vulnerability that can affect both victims’ and non-victims’ willingness to participate in college activities important to their academic success and graduation. Based on these formulations, Schuck posits that the greater the serious crime rate at or near a college or university, the lower the institution’s graduation rate.

Schuck asserts that disciplinary action regarding alcohol, drugs, and weapons may also influence the four-year graduation rate of the institution.  Disciplinary action can take two forms. One form pertains to the referral of crime offenders to the institution’s student conduct system. The other form entails reporting the crime to the police, which may result in arrest. Schuck asserts that referrals to the student conduct system likely result in higher four-year graduation rates because student conduct systems seek to help the offender understand the effects of their behavior on both the victim and the campus community. Through such understanding, students come to internalize the norms of the academic community, thereby enabling student development and increasing student achievement.

In contrast, Schuck contends that arrests by the police hinder graduation from college because of the detrimental effects of arrest on the academic achievement of the offender. Schuck lists missed classes, removal from campus housing, and financial expenses incurred because of the arrest. Taken together, Schuck posits that disciplinary referrals to the institution’s student conduct system result in higher four-year graduation rates whereas arrest will result in a lower four-year graduation rate.

To test her hypotheses regarding crime and student conduct, Schuck used data derived from two sources: Campus Safety and Security Data Analysis Cutting Tool and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), both maintained by the U. S. Department of Education. She restricted her sample to all public and private four-year colleges and universities, which resulted in 1,281 colleges and universities.

Using a general linear model to test her hypotheses, she controlled for a variety of factors that might influence institutional graduation rates such as admissions selectivity, ACT and SAT scores, and percentage of students from different racial/ethnic groups enrolled at the institution.

Discussion of the Findings

Schuck reports that colleges and universities with lower violent crime rates have higher four-year graduation rates. As the number of referrals to the student conduct system increases, the four-year graduation rate also increases.  Moreover, she found that arrests by police result in lower four-year graduation rates.  Through an additional analysis, Schuck found that the detrimental influence of the violent crime rate on the four-year graduation rate is greater for private than for public colleges and universities. However, she did not find any differences between public and private institutions based on the influence of institutions’ disciplinary action in four-year graduation rates.

Implications for Action by Campus Leaders

These findings highlight the complexity of factors that pertain to college graduation rates. One implication suggests that CIC campus leaders pay close attention to reports of violent crime committed on campus and the area around their campus. Presidents and chief student affairs officers bear a particular responsibility for assuring safety on their campuses and developing policies and procedures to prevent violent crimes such as rape, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated battery.  Schuck suggests that community policing strategies employ a problem solving approach to the prevention of crime that changes social and physical conditions in the campus community. Campus police and security guards should adhere to the principles of community policing and aggressive policing should be avoided. CIC campus leaders could consider an institutional study to understand if there are social and physical circumstances present in the community that may lead to violent crimes.

Students’ fear of crime should also concern CIC leaders. Schuck suggests that colleges and university conduct a fear of crime inventory to identify when and where the fear of crime for students is greatest on their college or university campus.

CIC campus leaders should also consider their approach to disciplinary action. The findings of this study suggest that student conduct systems provide the best approach for student success. A review of the philosophies that underlie campus conduct systems could also be an area for consideration for CIC campus leaders.

About the Author

Amie M. Schuck is an assistant professor in the department of criminology, law, and justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Literature Readers May Wish to Consult

References from this article that readers may wish to consult:

*Braga, A.A., B.C. Welsh, and C. Schnell. 2015. “Can Policing Disorder Campus Crime? A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 52, 567–588.

Fisher, B.S. and J.J. Sloan. 2013. Campus Crime: Legal, Social and Policy Perspectives (Third Edition). Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas Publisher.

Karp, D.R. and T. Allena. 2004. Restorative Justice on the College Campus: Promoting Student Growth and Responsibility and Reawakening the Spirit of Campus Community. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas Publisher.

Schrage, J.M. and N.G. Giacomini 2009. Reframing Campus Conflict: Student Conduct Practice through a Social Justice Lens. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

*This reference is particularly useful for CIC leaders to consult.