Inaugural College Free Speech Rankings Compare Culture of Free Expression on Campuses Nationwide

WASHINGTON, Sept. 29, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — College students and families have a new resource to evaluate the climates of free…

WASHINGTON, Sept. 29, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — College students and families have a new resource to evaluate the climates of free expression on campuses across the country, thanks to a platform launched today by College Pulse, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), and RealClearEducation. Known as the 2020 College Free Speech Rankings, the first-of-its-kind, interactive, online tool draws on survey data from nearly 20,000 students to rank the climates for free speech and open discourse at 55 institutions.

«Until today, students and parents had no way to evaluate the actual experience of being a student on one campus versus another when it comes to free speech, debate, and dissent,» said Robert Shibley, executive director of FIRE. «Finally, current and prospective students, their families, and involved citizens can get an unbiased, unvarnished look into the ways that individual campuses around the country treat free expression—and the students who swim against the current.»

The 2020 College Free Speech Rankings take into account the varied dimensions of free expression on campus, from the ability to discuss challenging topics like race, gender, and geopolitical conflicts, to whether students hold back from openly sharing their views. The Rankings are designed to help students and parents make enrollment decisions based on a range of factors including openness, tolerance, self-expression, and administrative support for free speech. The rankings capture and score a campus’ overall speech climate on a scale from 0-100, as well as the distinct experiences of conservative and liberal students.

«A university should be a lively marketplace of ideas—a place where different beliefs and opinions can be discussed, analyzed, and challenged with widest possible freedom,» said Nathan Harden, editor of RealClearEducation. «If students don’t feel free to speak their minds, or if they aren’t exposed to diverse points of view, it greatly diminishes the value of their education. Now more than ever, students and parents need help identifying colleges and universities that foster thoughtful examination of the most pressing issues facing society, from the state of race relations in America to the freedom of religion and association.»

Among the key takeaways, the findings from the inaugural College Free Speech Rankings indicate:

  • Of the institutions included in the ranking, the University of Chicago is considered the best campus for free speech, with a score of 64 out of 100. DePauw University ranks the lowest, with a score of 44 out of 100.
  • Seven of the colleges that ranked in the top 10 in the College Free Speech Rankings are public state universities with undergraduate enrollments over 15,000. Only one of the top 10 colleges is located in the Northeast or is a member of the Ivy League (Brown University). In contrast, seven of the ten colleges in the bottom 10 are private, and undergraduate enrollment at five of those seven colleges is below 10,000. Three of the bottom 10 colleges are located in the Northeast, and two are members of the Ivy League.
  • 60% of students can recall at least one time during their college experience when they did not share their perspective for fear of how others would respond. While men and women are equally likely to report they have censored themselves, students who identify as Conservative are much more likely to report prior self-censorship.
  • While 57% of students say their college would defend a speaker’s right to express his or her views in the case of a controversy over «offensive» expression, a disturbingly large minority, 42%, believe their college would punish the speaker for making the statement.
  • Over 45% of college students identified race as a challenging topic to discuss on campus, the highest of any controversial topic asked about. This figure rises to 66% for Black or African-American students.
  • Students’ assessment of free speech on campus is, at least in part, driven by their political ideology, and whether or not they align with the majority viewpoint at their college. Students who attend colleges where their political opinions align with the majority of other students are most comfortable sharing their beliefs. Results also show the predominant political viewpoint on most campuses is Liberal.

«These initial findings suggest, overwhelmingly, that colleges across the country have a long way to go to promote free expression for students,» said Terren Klein, co-founder and CEO of College Pulse. «We’re proud to elevate the voices of today’s college students to ensure future students understand this aspect of campus climate when deciding where to enroll. Professors, administrators, and staff can also use these rankings to better understand the student experience.»

To learn about the Annual College Free Speech Rankings, please visit the new dashboard here.

About College Pulse

College Pulse is a survey research and analytics company dedicated to understanding the attitudes, preferences and behaviors of today’s college students. College Pulse delivers custom data-driven marketing and research solutions, utilizing its unique American College Student Panel™ that includes over 400,000 undergraduate college student respondents from more than 1,000 two- and four-year colleges and universities in all 50 states.  For more information visit

About FIRE

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience — the essential qualities of liberty.

About RealClearEducation

RealClearEducation is dedicated to providing readers with better, more insightful analysis of the most important news and education policy issues of the day. RealClearEducation is part of the RealClear Media Group, which includes RealClearPolitics and more than a dozen other news websites. RealClear’s daily editorial curation, public opinion analysis, and original reporting present balanced, non-partisan news coverage that empowers our readers to stay informed.

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SOURCE College Pulse