WASHINGTON - The number of sex offenses reported at American colleges and universities went up in the last decade even as overall campus crime decreased, according to an Education Department survey that also suggests high schools are safer than they used to be.
The report released Tuesday said 3,330 forcible sex offenses were reported on campuses in 2011, the latest data available for colleges and universities that researchers have analyzed. That was a roughly 52 percent increase from the 2,200 reported a decade earlier, according to the report. But the number of campus crimes in every other category, such as burglary and car theft, declined during the same period.
The report acknowledges the steady increase in college enrollment that occurred during that period - census data show nearly 21 million students in 2011 compared to roughly 16 million in 2001 - but says the number of crimes reported on campus nonetheless declined for all categories but sex offenses.
The survey primarily focuses on crime and safety at the nation's elementary and secondary schools, where fewer crimes were reported than 20 years ago, according to the report.
Of students ages 12-18, 52 per 1,000 reported being victims of a crime at school in 2012, compared with 181 per 1,000 in 1992, according to the report. Away from school that rate fell from 173 per 1,000 to 38. Males were more likely than females to be victims of crime, and students in urban and suburban areas were more likely than their rural counterparts to have experienced crime.
The report draws on data from different sources, including the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and campus surveys. That means data for some statistical categories were available for as recently as 2012, while others - such as for fatal violence in schools - were not.
At elementary and high schools, the report identified 31 homicides or suicides - though not necessarily of students - between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2011, that occurred either on school grounds, on the way to or from school, or while attending or traveling to or from a school-sponsored event. During the 2010-11 school year, 11 school-age children were killed at school, and there were three reported suicides, the report said.
Though the 31 violent deaths for the year represent a sharp drop from the early 1990s, Tom Snyder of the National Center for Education Statistics, an Education Department center that collects and analyzes education-related data, cautioned that it was hard to draw meaningful conclusions about any trend. The data were compiled, for instance, before the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in which a gunman killed 20 students and six educators.
"If you look at the data, there's no real pattern. These are random acts of violence, and they don't seem to fall into patterns over time," Snyder said.
The report also briefly analyzes crime on campuses of colleges and universities. It finds that the number of on-campus crimes reported to police declined from 41,600 in 2001 to 30,400 in 2011 at public and private two- and four-year schools. Despite the overall drop in crime, the number of disciplinary referrals for drug and alcohol violations rose between 2001 and 2011.
The report is a joint publication of the National Center for Education Statistics and the Bureau of Justice Statistics.