Six Massachusetts schools are on a list released by the federal Education Department of 55 colleges from across the nation facing investigations over their handling of sexual abuse complaints

The list released Thursday includes Amherst College, Boston University, Emerson College, Harvard College, Harvard University Law School, and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

The department's decision to release the list is unprecedented and comes as the Obama administration seeks to shed greater transparency on the issue of sexual assault in higher education and how it is being handled.

The agency previously would confirm such an investigation when asked, but students and others were often unaware of them.

Some investigations were prompted by complaints directly to the department; others were initiated by the department after a regular compliance review.