Controlling Campus Alcohol Use
“There Ought to be a Law!”
Stephen M. Guest
Of the many dangers that distresses parents, harm to their children from drug and alcohol use is likely one of the most prevalent concerns. Parental anxiety only increases when that child ventures onto a college campus. With the constant publicity given campus drinking, a parent may well exclaim, “there ought to be a law” which can effectively control what seems to be a growing problem.
This was our family’s reaction after our daughter, Kristine, was one of the over 1,700 college-aged individuals who died in an alcohol related incident in 2005. Although not involved with the excessive drinking occurring at a campus party of 80 to 100 students, Kristine fell victim to the excessive drinking of others. As with other parents in our situation, we questioned why colleges and universities are not required to better control such harmful activities.
Surprisingly, since 1989, there has been such a law. However, lack of enforcement has failed to cause real change in attitudes on many campuses. In 1989, Congress passed the Drug Free Schools and Campuses Act which established requirements that all colleges and universities must meet prior to qualifying for federal funds, including federal student financial aid. Congress’ stated goal in enacting the requirements was to change the culture of underage and excessive drinking on campuses. The potential sanctions for noncompliance clearly are sufficient for all institutions to take notice.
The requirements are:
The law’s requirements can be separated into two categories. The first category relates to documentation. This includes policies and procedures, enforcement statements, biennial review, and certification. This papering of an institution’s compliance is likely complete and compelling for most, if not all, colleges and universities receiving federal funding. Compliance review has been assigned to the Center for Higher Education, an independent organization under contract to the US Department of Education (ED). Their compliance guide for colleges and universities and other information is available at www.higheredcenter.org/dfsca/.
The Center described their review process as follows:
“The Center conducts an analysis of a weighted random sample of campus biennial review reports. This is different than an audit – an audit may only be done by the Office of Student Financial aid. The Center conducts an analysis in order to provide campuses with assistance in conducting their biennial reviews, in preparing the report, and in conducting effective prevention programs. We analyze reports from under 10% of campuses nationwide.”1
The second requirement category relates to consistent enforcement, which is listed in the ED regulations as a minimum requirement for compliance. Consistent enforcement must be demonstrated in the biennial review. While ensuring paper compliance apparently is adequately addressed by the role given to the Center for Higher Education, determining compliance with the consistent enforcement requirement rests within ED.
While ED cannot be expected to monitor consistent enforcement on all campuses, they should have a process to investigate when apparent instances of noncompliance are brought to their attention. Recent experience strongly indicates that ED does not have such a process in place and may not be willing to be proactive in addressing such instances. After seventeen years, there have been no sanctions applied under the act. Our family is attempting to compel the ED to address the college’s consistent enforcement of their policies prohibiting alcohol use, with little progress thus far. More concerning, the process demonstrated that no established review process exists within ED.
This lack of effective enforcement by ED is the primary reason a seemingly effective law has caused little change in attitudes on many campuses. Concerned parents need not be passive and hope for the best. Rather, they can confront the issue prior to feeling compelled as result of a family tragedy.
Action is possible prior to a tragedy occurring both for parents of incoming students and present students.
For incoming students:
For parents of present students, many of the above continue to be appropriate, in addition to:
More comprehensive suggested actions for parents were detailed in a 2002 study, “Dying to Drink” by Henry Wechsler, Ph. D, and Bernice Wuethrich.2 In addition, there many examples where efforts to alter the campus alcohol culture by colleges, communities, the alcohol distribution industry and government resulted in positive change. These examples counter the view that campus drinking is inevitable and attempts at control are futile.
If college administrators receive inquiries regarding
the Drug Free Schools and Campuses Act frequently and from many directions,
they will realize that parents are both concerned and aware of the
institution’s obligations under federal law. Their compliance activity will
no longer be just an afterthought.
Questions for parents:
1 Email response from Beth DeRicco, PhD, Associate Director, The Center for College Health and Safety, November 28, 2006
2 Henry Wechsler, Ph. D, and Bernice Wuethrich, Dying to Drink, Confronting Binge Drinking on College Campuses, (Rodale Inc., 2002)
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In loving Memory of Kristine Guest