Small colleges in rural towns might seem safer from crime than big urban universities. But in Utah, the opposite is true.

Bigger and urban schools actually tend to have fewer crimes per student than their smaller and rural counterparts.

"People get in that mindset that smaller is safer. But there are bad guys everywhere. There are monsters everywhere," says Frank Budd, longtime professor of criminal justice at Weber State University and executive director of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association.

He said that at bigger universities, "more impersonalization (not knowing neighbors and most people nearby) occurs that makes students tend to lock up everything and watch their goods. At smaller colleges, they tend to walk out of the dorm and leave it unlocked because they think they know everybody."

The Deseret Morning News discovered the higher crime rates at smaller schools by analyzing U.S. Department of Education data about on-campus crime between the 2001-02 and 2004-05 school years.

The data cover 58 Utah campuses for institutions of higher education that are eligible for federal student aid. They range from Brigham Young University (largest in the state by total student population) to such small schools as the Evans Hairstyling College and the Ogden Institute of Massage Therapy.

The analysis found that, generally, the bigger the school, the lower the average annual crime rate it had.

For institutions with more than 14,000 students (six total: BYU, the University of Utah, Utah Valley State College, Salt Lake Community College, Weber State University and Utah State University), the average annual crime rate in the period was 21.1 per 10,000 students.

A bit higher — 23.9 crimes per 10,000 students — was the rate for schools with between 2,000 and 14,000 students (six total: Dixie State College, Southern Utah University, Snow College, Davis Applied Technology College, Westminster College and College of Eastern Utah).

The 46 schools with fewer than 2,000 students each had crime rates twice as high on average: 53.3 crimes per 10,000 students.

Next, in comparing urban and rural locations, urban schools tend to have lower crime rates.

The 44 schools in urban areas had an annual average of 22.7 crimes per 10,000 students. Meanwhile, the 14 schools in rural areas had an average of 27.7.

Budd said Utah schools actually have crime rates that are lower than the national average. But he warned, "At every campus, you have a higher risk of becoming a victim than elsewhere. Most crimes are committed by people in 16 to 25 age group, and that is the age group at most campuses. More drinking goes on. There is more drugs. It is an environment that is more conducive to crime."

Among medium and larger schools, the one with the highest crime rate was in a rural area: Snow College in rural Ephraim. It had 53.3 crimes per 10,000 students on average annually for the period.

Budd said that because Snow is small, and people likely feel safe and think they know everyone, students "are probably more casual about their personal effects and are less concerned about safety," making crime easier.

The lowest rate among medium and larger colleges was at an urban school: Utah Valley State College in Orem: just 3.3 crimes per 10,000 students.

Of interest, rape — a crime that colleges traditionally expend great efforts to avoid through education and security — is reported only at medium and larger schools in Utah. Smaller schools (with fewer than 2,000 students) did not report any on-campus rapes during the four-year period.

The school with the highest average annual rate for rapes was the rural College of Eastern Utah, with 29 per 10,000 women students. Behind it were Snow College (16 per 10,000 women), Weber State (11), the U. (7.4) and USU (7.2).

Large and medium schools that reported no rapes in the period included Dixie State, Westminster and the Davis Applied Technology College.

Budd said rape is one of the most underreported crimes in the nation — less than half are likely reported — because victims often worry about stigma or feel shame. He said less stigma for reporting it is likely at big universities than at small colleges where everyone knows each other.