Issue: Underage Drinking on College Campuses

TOWSON, Md. (August 21, 2008)—Alcohol abuse is a complex societal issue that deserves more attention and discussion. Nationally, binge drinking is a major issue on college campuses. About 44 percent of college students have engaged in binge drinking, and half of these students say their primary motivation is to become intoxicated. Unfortunately, underground misuse of alcohol impedes both students’ ability and those who are charged with educating them, to teach, to learn, and to practice healthy decision-making that accompanies the privilege of consuming alcohol in the open. This culture of excessive alcohol use that pervades many campuses results in harmful and devastating consequences.

Although Towson University has continuously and vigorously pursued underage alcohol use prevention, education, and enforcement on our campus for more than 15 years, binge and clandestine drinking continues to be a problem. According to results from campus surveys and the National Collegiate Health Assessment, consistently between 1998-2006 more than 50 percent of Towson students engaged in binge drinking (5 drinks or more in one sitting). Towson has invested significant time and resources to partner with local and national groups to address underage drinking, yet the problem continues to rise.

Further, students’ behavior off-campus is beyond the reach of college or university authority. College education officials are not law enforcement officials. Despite federal law and strict campus policies, underage student drinkers drive to off-campus events where alcohol is served, which can lead to disorderly and disruptive conduct, assault, or tragic results.

Towson University’s Approach
Towson University is committed to providing a safe and secure environment for all students. As recommended by the Center for Substance Abuse Program (CSAP) Towson University has implemented a multi-level, alcohol awareness, education, and prevention approach that seeks to:

  • Raise awareness;
  • Enable students to make healthy choices supportive of learning;
  • Decrease access to alcohol;
  • Indentify students for intervention and treatment;
  • Enforce laws and policies regarding the use of alcohol;
  • Promote responsible, legal behavior, and;
  • Recognize Good Samaritan behavior of students who help and encourage their peers to choose responsibly.

Towson University utilizes a number of programs to raise awareness of the dangers of substance abuse, and help students develop knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to make healthy decisions.

Raise Awareness Among Students

  • Freshman Orientation
  • First-Year Experience advising
  • Alcohol/Drug Awareness Week events (e.g. NCAAW, 3-D Safe Break, Safe Spring Break, Safe Summer Send-off)
  • Student-Led awareness and peer education events (e.g. students leaders, Greek Life, etc.)
  • Housing and Residence Life conducts more than 19 alcohol related programs in the first 8 weeks of the fall semester
  • Various social marketing, ad campaigns, workshops, popular speakers.

Educate Students on Healthy Lifestyle Choices and Encourage Involvement in Safe Campus Activities

  • Peer Education Programming such as “Mocktail” events
  • Alcohol Edu, which is a required online substance abuse education for entering freshmen Welcome Back (Fall and Spring Semesters)
  • Increase marketing around campus events such as FebFest, Tigerfest, Homecoming, and Halloween
  • Alcohol-Free Social Programming such as Friday Night Live.

On campus, Towson University identifies and targets high-risk groups for programming, intervention, and treatment through data collection, judicial sanctioning for violators, counseling center programs, health center referrals, faculty/advisor referrals, and self-referrals.

As a member of a greater metropolitan community, Towson University implemented an “Off-campus Disorderly and Disruptive Behavior Policy.” The policy consistently delivers the message about student responsibility including the illegal use of alcohol or drugs and holds students who reside off-campus responsible for their behavior.

Next Steps
In 1984 Congress passed a law that imposed a 10 percent reduction in annual federal highway appropriation to any state setting its drinking age lower than 21. This provision has effectively stifled meaningful debate over the drinking age. Congress' requirement to pass the reauthorization of the transportation bill in 2009 provides the opportunity to consider removing 10 percent reduction. Only the state legislature can change the drinking age in any state, but removal of the 10 percent reduction will allow serious discussion and debate to be resumed after a 24-year hiatus.

Towson University supports informed, constructive public debate of the effects and consequences—both intended and unintended—of the current 21-year-old drinking age, and the efficacy of the current law. This is a realistic, pragmatic and logical approach to helping to address one of the major problems we face on our campuses, alcohol abuse by our students.

Our goals for the future are to:

  • Engage in civil dialogue on the pervasive issue of underage drinking.
  • Promote positive, legal student behavior on campus and when appropriate, off campus.
  • Participate in a serious and sustained debate about how closely public policy, including the drinking age, and the real life on campus are aligned.
  • Provide leadership in carrying out such discussions, weigh all evidence, and consider all policy alternatives.

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