What If College Rankings Included Sex Assault Stats? The Ivy Leagues Would Take A Hit, That's For Sure

Imagine you're a high school senior pouring over the dozens of college rankings in the aisles of Barnes and Noble. If you saw that Princeton University ranked No. 1 in academics but No. 90 in the handling of sexual assault and rape cases, would you still send in your application? What if colleges like Harvard, Yale, or Columbia were ranked with sex assault statistics in mind — all of which have top-tier academic programs, but bottom-tier resources for sexual assault victims, according to recent federal investigations. For the activist group UltraViolet, in a just world the inadequate handling of sexual assault cases would factor into the much-publicized rankings.

UltraViolet has launched an online petition calling for The Princeton Review, one of the largest college prep companies in the U.S., to include information on universities' sexual assault track records. "Students and parents have a right to know if the school they're thinking of enrolling in has a problem with rape," the petition states.

It wouldn't be that far out of the norm for The Princeton Review, which already includes data on subjects other than academics, such as "Party Schools," "Reefer Madness" and "Lots of Hard Liquor." If scotch, beer and weed can be quantifiably ranked, then why not just add a section for "Worst Resources For Sexual Assault Victims?"

Why or why not, indeed?

It Sends A Message

UltraViolet believes that if college rankings took into account Title IX violations, it would "motivate colleges across the country to get serious about the epidemic of campus rape." There may be some truth to that: Within a week of the White House introducing their campus sexual assault task force, many higher-education institutions across the nation are taking steps to create a less-hostile environment for survivors.

The president of Brown University, for instance, stated in an open letter that the university will hire a full-time Title IX coordinator to develop additional sexual assault resources and prevention programs.

Less Prestige For The Ivy League

It's certainly understandable why institutions wouldn't want to publicize their administrations' failings— many schools with a so-called rape problem are prestigious institutions. That was one of the main takeaways after the Department of Education released its list of 55 universities under open federal investigation last week. Nearly half the Ivy Leagues already made the list — Dartmouth, Harvard (twice, for College and Law School) and Princeton — while Columbia may be joining them in the near future. Yale was already investigated by the DOE in 2012, and found in violation of Title IX policies.

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And if they're not Ivy League, they're most likely other top-tier schools, such as University of California-Berkeley, and Amherst College, to name a few. There's a reason for this, according to Slate's Amanda Hess: Students at elite universities are not only in a privileged position to speak out against their crimes, but are also much more likely to be heard than those at under-funded public schools. So, it's not that more sexual violence occurs at elite institutions, but they're more likely to be reported.

Of course, an Ivy League is an Ivy League, and most prospective students (and their parents) would have a tough time turning down Harvard, Yale or Princeton. In the end, it may be the private institutions that are still climbing their way into the upper-echelon that will face the biggest reputation fall-outs and have to up their PR games.

Crime Reports May Deter Students — But They're Also Flawed

Although The Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report don't include crime statistics in their rankings, publications have started their own. In 2012, Business Insider published its "25 Most Dangerous Colleges in America" list based on data from the FBI. The ranking took into account property crime and violent crime, which includes rape.

It was a PR nightmare for many universities, and rightfully so: Parents of perspective students may be deterred by high crime rates, whether on or off-campus. Rep. Jackie Spier (D-Calif.) highlighted this in a recent letter to U.S. News.

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Why isn't there more emphasis on sexual assault rates? Some university officials believe including sexual assault crimes in the methodology without context would be a flawed representation of college campuses. Nancy Greenstein, a spokesperson for the University of California Police, recently told The Daily Bruin:

Typically when you are rating something, if there is more crime that’s bad, if there is less crime that’s good. When you’re looking at sexual assault, higher numbers are good because people are hesitant to report.

So universities like UCLA, which has a higher rate of sexual assault reporting than most institutions, could be penalized even though the university's policies are actually working to help victims come forward.