Passed 50 years ago this summer, the federal law known as Title IX is supposed to ensure students’ right to an education free from sexual harassment and gendered violence. It put the onus on colleges to build robust systems for investigating allegations, protecting complainants and disciplining perpetrators.
But a first-of-its-kind data analysis of Title IX case outcomes across dozens of the nation’s largest universities found that, while many survivors of sexual misconduct saw their education disrupted, few perpetrators faced meaningful punishment. Schools suspended just 1 of every 12,400 students enrolled each year for sexual misconduct. They expelled 1 in 22,900.
USA TODAY asked 107 public universities that compete in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision for aggregate statistics about sexual misconduct reports received from 2014 through 2020, including the number formally investigated, the number that resulted in students being found responsible, and a breakdown of sanctions imposed. The analysis covered all forms of sexual misconduct schools must address under Title IX, including sexual harassment and assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.
Explore the data for each school below. Scroll to the bottom to see the news organization’s methodology.
Michigan State, Arizona among 56 schools that provided full data
Of the 107 schools, which represent the nation’s most recognizable and well-resourced public universities, 56 gave the news organization complete data covering all seven years.
Virginia Tech, Oregon among 34 schools that provided partial data
Thirty-four schools provided data covering a partial timeframe. Most of these schools did not start tracking cases electronically until sometime after 2014, or their case records from then were not easily accessible. Click a school to see how many years of data it provided.
In the absence of a federal mandate to report such information, USA TODAY’s analysis, while incomplete, offers the fullest picture yet of how top colleges handled sexual misconduct reports during a period of heightened enforcement of the law and attention toward the issue of campus sexual assault.
USA TODAY selected the period of 2014 through 2020 because each year saw a significant development in the Title IX-enforcement landscape. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education under President Barack Obama prescribed specific steps schools must take to respond to sexual misconduct complaints. The department under President Donald Trump rescinded those rules, which centered on the safety and well-being of the survivor. In 2020, it issued new Title IX regulations that made it harder for schools to find accused students at fault, citing concerns about schools unfairly punishing male students.
The federal government, however, has never collected data from schools on Title IX case outcomes, and only two states, New York and Maryland, require colleges to report such statistics. USA TODAY set out to determine how common an experience it was for students to be disciplined by their universities for sexual misconduct.
Starting in April 2021, USA TODAY asked officials at 107 FBS public universities to provide information about the outcomes of sexual misconduct reports against accused students that the institutions received from January 1, 2014, through December 31, 2020. It’s a group of mostly large, residential colleges that reporters chose to study for the news organization’s ongoing series “Title IX: Falling Short at 50.” Because they are public institutions, reporters could file a public records request for the information if a school chose not to provide the information voluntarily.
USA TODAY requested aggregate numbers, as opposed to details about specific cases, because student privacy laws limit the information schools can share publicly about individual students. The news organization based its questions on annual reports that a handful of schools’ Title IX offices already published, many of which captured the same information. The questions used the term “Title IX offense” to describe all forms of sexual misconduct schools must address under the law, including sexual assault and harassment, dating and domestic violence, and stalking:
1. From 1/1/2014 through 12/31/2020, how many reports did your institution receive of a student accused of a Title IX offense?
2. Of the number in Question 1, how many reports were informally resolved?
3. Of the number in Question 1, how many formal investigations were opened?
4. Of the number in Question 3, how many formal investigations resulted in a finding of responsibility against one or more students for a Title IX offense?
5. Over the same time period, how many students found responsible in a formal investigation for a Title IX offense were expelled/dismissed/permanently separated from your institution?
6. Over the same time period, how many students found responsible in a formal investigation for a Title IX offense were suspended/temporarily dismissed from your institution?
7. Over the same time period, how many students found responsible in a formal investigation for a Title IX offense were issued sanctions other than expulsion/suspension/dismissal?
USA TODAY spent the next 18 months collecting responses from the institutions. Several provided the information within days. Others took months or more than a year.
Most schools directly responded to the questions. Others provided preexisting annual reports or spreadsheets of case data that answered all or some of the questions. In each case, a reporter gleaned as much information from the records as possible to answer as many of the questions as possible, then verified its accuracy with the school and asked officials to fill in any gaps.
Some schools provided the information by academic year or fiscal year, which slightly altered their timeframes. For instance, some schools provided data covering the period of July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2021. Generally, the schools that provided partial data provided it for a period ending in 2020. For instance, six years of data generally covered 2015 through 2020.
Some schools did not break out the information in a way that answered the questions. The University of Missouri, for instance, did not distinguish between reports of sex discrimination and other types of discrimination and grouped sanctions by type, instead of by case or student, so the number of students disciplined could not be gleaned. It declined to provide additional information that would directly answer the questions.
When officials did not respond to the questions, USA TODAY submitted public records requests that compelled many of the holdout schools to provide the information. Some, however, still declined to provide it. The University of Georgia, for instance, said gathering the sanction data alone would take 200 hours and that it would charge the news organization $7,590.50 to fulfill the request. Oklahoma State University said it did not track sanction information. Auburn University said it was not required to provide it and declined to use its “discretion” to do so.
Some schools interpreted certain questions differently from others. For instance, in response to Question 1, a few schools provided only the number of formal sexual misconduct complaints they received against students, whereas most schools included informal reports, such as those made by a mandatory reporter, as opposed to a complainant pursuing a formal investigation. Some interpreted “informally resolved” as any outcome that did not involve a formal investigation, while others interpreted it to mean cases resolved through a mediation agreement between the parties. The term “formally investigated” also took on different interpretations, with some schools counting cases in which they launched a preliminary investigation but did not initiate formal disciplinary proceedings.
The questions with the least apparent room for interpretation were those about sanctions imposed against students found at fault, though even Question 7 produced some varying responses. USA TODAY sought to correct these interpretations with schools whenever possible to garner uniform responses. Experts with whom the news organization conferred agreed that Questions 5 and 6 – about expulsions and suspensions – were the most reliable, so USA TODAY centered its analysis efforts on those.
Of the 107 schools, 56 gave the news organization complete expulsion and suspension data covering all seven years. Thirty-four provided such data covering a partial timeframe. Eleven gave incomplete data that captured a subset of the requested information, and six provided none at all. USA TODAY analyzed the schools that gave complete and partial data separately and found virtually the same results.
The 56 schools that gave complete data expelled 594 students for sexual misconduct and suspended 1,094 over the seven-year period. Because schools with the largest enrollments naturally tended to expel and suspend more students, USA TODAY defined a per-capita metric, the “expulsion/suspension rate,” that adjusts for enrollment size to allow for direct comparisons between institutions. It represents the average number of students each school expelled or suspended per year for every 10,000 students enrolled. The enrollment figures come from a U.S. Department of Education database called The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. USA TODAY downloaded each school’s 12-month, unduplicated headcount for each school year from 2013-14 through 2019-20 and calculated the seven-year average.