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Drugs on Campus 2015

All colleges that receive federal funding are legally obligated by the Jeanne Clery Act to provide reports about the crimes that occur on and around their campuses. The data, from thousands of institutions across the United States, are collated and released by the Office of Postsecondary Education once a year. The latest figures have just been released, and they show that in 2014, there were 44,873 arrests and over 250,000 disciplinary actions on college campuses for drug- and alcohol-related offenses. We’ve mapped and analyzed them to find out where they happened and how things changed between 2013 and 2014.

We began by downloading the latest on-campus crime data for all colleges that have student residential facilities. This means we only looked at drug and alcohol arrests and disciplinary actions that took place in buildings or on property owned or controlled by the institutions (including residential halls). Then, to prevent small numbers from skewing the results, we filtered out colleges with enrollment populations of under 5,000 students. This left a pool of about 1,000 medium- and large-sized colleges with 210,000 drug and alcohol disciplinary actions (sometimes called “referrals”) and arrests between them (70% of the total across all institutions).

Our first few maps group colleges by the states they reside in and rank them by the number of arrests and disciplinary actions they had in 2014 per 1,000 students.

Drug arrests on college campuses in 2014 were highest in the West North Central and Central regions of the country. More specifically, the top five states (Montana, West Virginia, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Delaware) all had rates of on-campus drug arrests that were at least 2.3 times higher than the median state average of 1.08 per 1,000 students. Montana, at 4.8 and in first place, was over four times higher (and up 26% from 2013).

Alaska saw the greatest increase in on-campus drug arrest rates between 2013 and 2014, but the totals in both years were very small (16 and 24 respectively) because they only came from one institution: the University of Alaska. The same principle applies to Maine. The three other states shown above have larger and therefore more reliable totals. The 47.9% increase in Alabama appears to have been mostly caused by the University of Alabama, which had 49 drug arrests in 2013, but 109 in 2014. Alabama A&M University also saw a relatively large, albeit less impactful increase, with 17 in 2014, up from seven the year before.

Now that we’re talking about increases and decreases, it’s probably a good time to ask whether a rate that decreased between 2013 and 2014 is a good thing (because it means there was less drug or alcohol crime), or a bad thing (because the police did a poorer job of rooting out the crime than during the year before). The answer is that it could be either. In four of the five states pictured above (which saw the biggest decreases in drug arrests), the reductions could be due to the actions of a small number of people on just a couple of individual campuses. Vermont, for example, had 23 drug arrests in 2013 (all at the University of Vermont), but only five in 2014 (a 78.3% decrease). So it could be that a few “bad apples” in 2013 made all the difference – or, just slightly more relaxed campus cops a year later. The picture should be a bit clearer when we switch from drug arrests to alcohol arrests, though, because the latter are much more common across more campuses.

An obvious question when looking at drug and alcohol arrests on college campuses is whether states that have a lot of one also tend to have a lot of the other. In other words, do drug and alcohol offenses go hand in hand? It seems they might: Six of the top 10 states for drug arrests also appear on the top 10 list for alcohol arrests (Indiana, Montana, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming). The colleges within their borders may have police forces that were broadly vigilant and responsive across both types of crime, or they have more problems with alcohol and drugs than other states (or, quite possibly, a bit of both).

Interestingly, none of the five states that saw the biggest increases in drug arrests between 2013 and 2014 is among the five that had the biggest increases in alcohol arrests. Given that the numbers are significantly larger for alcohol arrests, it seems the “few bad apples” (or more relaxed cops) theory might be a good one for drug arrests. In other words, drug arrests in states with small student populations happen quite infrequently, which means that just a handful of arrests can create some quite major year-on-year percentage changes.

That could be the case for three of the four states shown below, which also have small numbers of arrests. But Wisconsin stands out: It saw 227 alcohol arrests in 2013, but only 90 in 2014.

In 2014, 503 out of the 548 drug arrests that took place at colleges in Wisconsin occurred on University of Wisconsin campuses (which, to some extent, makes sense: 63% of the students we looked at in Wisconsin were enrolled at UW). The UW campuses most responsible for Wisconsin’s drop in alcohol arrests between 2013 and 2014 were UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee, which both had seven times fewer alcohol arrests in 2014 than 2013 (107 to 15, and 143 to 19, respectively). It’s possible that neither campus actually had fewer alcohol offenses, though. They might have just handled them differently in 2014 than in 2013, for instance, by issuing disciplinary actions rather than making arrests. The arrest versus disciplinary action topic is a major part of the campus crime debate, and our analysis wouldn’t be complete unless we looked at both types of punishment.

Campus policies evolve to address the needs of an ever-changing student landscape. As part of this, college police forces will continue to make adjustments to best stem the tide of a seemingly inevitable amount of illegal or otherwise problematic drug and alcohol activity on campus. An ongoing debate exists contrasting the merits of heightened police vigilance and arrests against improved strategies to in increasing available treatment options for students who may be struggling with substance use disorders. No matter which side of the argument one falls on, the issues of late teen and young adult substance abuse will likely always present problems for colleges around the country.

But, what of the issue as it pertains to the affected students themselves? What might be viewed as standard behavior for a younger demographic can quickly develop into something more serious – as compulsive drinking patterns and/or drug dependency take root. If drinking and drugs have negatively impacted your studies, your relationships or any other facet of your life, an addiction recovery program may provide help. Visit for more information, or call 1-888-652-3778 to speak with someone about invaluable drug and alcohol abuse treatment options.

Despite seeing almost 50% fewer drug-related disciplinary actions on college campuses than in 2013, Vermont still had the highest rate in the country in 2014. And that’s also in spite of the fact that the states in positions 2 to 9 underneath Vermont all had higher rates in 2014 than 2013. The reason Vermont beat all other states (or was beaten by them, depending on how you look at it) is that the University of Vermont had 344 drug disciplinary actions in 2014 in a population of only 12,856 students (18.2 per 1,000). In 2013, it had 673 (52.9 per 1,000). Both of those rates are a lot higher than the national average, which in 2014 was 2.4.

Idaho saw the biggest relative increase in drug-related disciplinary actions between 2013 and 2014 (99 to 179). The University of Idaho was partly responsible (it had 2 in 2013, but 23 in 2014), as was Brigham Young University, which went from 5 to 20.

As mentioned above, Vermont saw a fairly dramatic decrease in drug disciplinary actions between 2013 and 2014, despite ranking higher than any other state. This means that it appears on the “five biggest drops” lists for alcohol arrests and drug arrests, as well as the one above for drug disciplinary actions. It also appears in the bottom five for the fourth and final category below.

Five of the top 10 states that had the most on-campus alcohol arrests in 2014 appear in the top 10 list for alcohol disciplinary actions (with Vermont in position one, as it was for drug disciplinary actions, and despite a 45% decrease in rate from 2013). Wisconsin is one of the states that appears in the top 10 for alcohol disciplinary actions (5th) but not for alcohol arrests (it ranked 44th). The reason appears to be because of a major change in how the University of Wisconsin reports its on-campus alcohol offenses. For example, in 2012, UW-Oshkosh (which has sometimes been given the unflattering nickname of “Sloshkosh,” because of its reputation for heavy drinking) reported 256 alcohol arrests on its campus. When its data for 2013 were first released in late 2014, there were 115. However, 2015 data have now revised the 115 alcohol arrests from 2013 to zero, with the following caveat:

“[115 was changed to zero] because we had not been using the correct definition for ‘arrest.”
“We” in the quoted caveat above appears to mean UW-Oshkosh, or its police force. UW-River Falls’ data page explains more:

“Underage drinking is a civil offense in the state of Wisconsin, not [a] criminal offense and therefore [a] ticket issued for underage drinking is not classified as “arrests” per Clery act regulations. Appropriate Alcohol offenses are counted as part of Disciplinary referral numbers.”
This revision in offense classification means that while in previous years University of Wisconsin campuses ranked high for alcohol arrests, they should, in fact, probably have ranked high for alcohol disciplinary actions. Oshkosh, for instance, was 18th-highest in the country in 2013 for alcohol arrests, 9th in 2012, and 1st in 2011. But now that UW is correctly reporting underage drinking offenses as disciplinary actions rather than arrests (in line with state law), those past rankings are moot. This highlights why it’s so important to not think of on-campus arrests as being necessarily more indicative of a crime problem than disciplinary actions, because whether an offense is placed in one category or the other often depends on state laws as much as it does on the leniency of local police, or an institution’s urge to protect its reputation by using disciplinary actions instead of arrests.

Kentucky saw the greatest relative increase in alcohol disciplinary actions in 2014 from 2013, largely due to the University of Kentucky, which had 381 in 2013, but nearly double, 731, a year later. Indiana’s 54.7% increase was created in large part by IU Bloomington, which went from 660 to 1,215, and the University of Notre Dame, which went from 403 to 901.

As explained earlier, while viewing drug and alcohol crimes at the state level can give a good overall picture for many states, others suffer from not having many colleges (and therefore students), which means one or two institutions can color the entire state by their low or high counts. For a more accurate view, we need to focus on individual campuses. We’ve ranked our roughly 1,000 campuses first by their drug and alcohol arrests and then by disciplinary actions.

The three campuses with the highest rates of drug arrests in 2014 all belonged to the State University of New York. In fact, seven of the top 50 were SUNY campuses. SUNY Oswego, which ranked first place in 2014, made the news in May 2015 for an especially high-profile arrest of one its students, Dylan Soeffing, who was charged with the illegal possession of 809 Xanax pills, a small amount of marijuana, and $170,000 in cash. SUNY New Paltz has also had its share of controversy. In last year’s Drugs on Campus report, we showed that – among colleges with at least 5,000 students – SUNY New Paltz had more on-campus drug arrests per 1,000 students than any other college campus in the country. In response, the Police Benevolent Association of New York State held an award ceremony to honor the University Police officers of SUNY New Paltz for achieving a higher drug arrest rate than anyone else. Officer Adam Darmstadt said:

“All of the officers of the SUNY New Paltz Police are proud to receive this award in recognition for our hard work and dedication.”
However, many SUNY students took the opposite view, seeing SUNY New Paltz’s first-place ranking as a sign that the college police had their policing priorities all wrong. Rebecca Berlin, one of the organizers of the protest, said:

“We think that the money and resources should be focused on violent crimes and assault on campus. Money is being funneled into arresting students for minor drug offenses while adjuncts are making poverty wages.”
It’s clear that high rates of on-campus arrests can either be a badge of honor or shame, depending on the interpretation of the data. One school of thought says that almost all colleges have problems with drugs and alcohol and therefore those that rank high for arrests stand out for their diligent policing and truthful reporting. The other takes the reverse position: High rates mean exactly that, either because there’s more crime relative to other places, or because campus police come down too hard on non-violent crimes such as the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Police officials said these were responsible for the vast majority of on-campus arrests at SUNY New Paltz in 2013, although there were some “…heroin arrests, needles, cocaine.”

Whatever the actual cause of SUNY campuses’ high arrest rates is, none were among the five that ranked highest for their 2013 to 2014 increase in on-campus drug arrests.

We’ve already seen that changes in colleges’ rates of on-campus arrests can have as much to do with alterations in how they police their campuses and categorize offenses as the actual rate at which offenses take place. To understand why the colleges above became the 10 with the biggest changes between 2013 and 2014, it’s worth looking at each of them individually. In the case of Ithaca College in New York, which saw the biggest relative increase in drug arrests, no caveats are given on the OPE’s site or in Ithaca College’s self-published Annual Security and Fire Safety Report. It appears there were simply more drug arrests in 2014 than in 2013 (19 vs. 5). There’s also no explanation given for why Finger Lakes Community College saw a 982% increase in alcohol arrests, but such a large increase suggests a change in policing policy (unless a serious underage drinking epidemic hit the campus in 2014). Paris Junior College also saw a 900%+ increase in alcohol arrests, but given that it was the difference between 1 and 8 arrests, the leap is less alarming.

Interestingly, Ithaca College, which saw the greatest relative increase in drug arrests between 2013 and 2014, also had the most drug disciplinary actions per 1,000 students in 2014, at 36.6 per 1,000 students. There were 342 in total, 311 of which occurred in student residential facilities. There is significant crossover between the top 50 lists for drug and alcohol disciplinary actions: 19 colleges appear on both. There was slightly less crossover between the drug and alcohol arrest top 50 lists, with only 11 colleges appearing on both.

Coastal Carolina University ranked very high on both disciplinary lists (5th for drugs, 1st for alcohol). In 2014, it had 251 drug referrals (up from 203 in 2013) and 1,058 alcohol referrals (up from 989).

At first glance, the University of Pennsylvania appears to have experienced a torrential wave of drug crime in 2014 – it went from 21 drug disciplinary actions in 2013, to 337 in 2014 (a 1,493% increase). However, the college’s campus crime report from 2015 reveals the changes were due to new reporting procedures, not a sudden influx of drug offenders. Drug arrests are reported as being nearly the same in both years. No such explanation is given in Johns Hopkins University’s crime report, which shows that there were 729 alcohol referrals in 2014, up from 277 in 2013.

James Madison University’s stats are interesting. They show an increase from 523 alcohol referrals in 2013, to 1,012 in 2014 – a jump so substantial that it might suggest a change in reporting procedure more than an increase in underage drinking. But if we go back to 2012, we can see that there were more alcohol referrals than in either of those years: 1,106. This suggests that either reporting procedures were changed at least twice between 2012 and 2014, or that a fluctuation of this kind in the incidence of alcohol offenses is possible year-on-year.

More than in any other year, this recent batch of data shows just how many factors contribute to the perception of a college’s levels of drug and alcohol crime. Arrest totals appear to be no more indicative of a problem than disciplinary actions – and which of the two punishments a college chooses to apply when responding to a criminal incident depends on local laws as much as the individual preferences of its police force. Therefore, when considering what the actual level of drug and alcohol crime is on any particular college campus, both measures should be considered and compared. Whether high rates of arrests and referrals actually indicate high levels of crime, or just high rates of catching offenders, is a much harder problem. If SUNY New Paltz has taught us anything, it’s that the side you end up taking may depend on whether you are enrolled at the college or policing its grounds.

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