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Campus Alcohol Policies and Their Impact on Student Drinking

Most campus administrators have come to recognize that alcohol policies play a role in changing students’ behaviors towards alcohol. As students arrive on campus there is typically an increase in students’ alcohol use, what we call the “college effect” (see Figure 1). Students who have not been heavy drinkers may begin to consume greater amounts of alcohol. Those who have only occasionally had a drink may begin to drink more frequently, and those who have abstained may begin to experiment with alcohol for the first time. Policy enforcement during this time period is critical to set the tone on campus; however, students should be held accountable with consistent enforcement throughout the remainder of the year as well.

Figure 1. The College Effect – Student Arrival on Campus Corresponds with an Increase in Alcohol Use

the college effect everfi

There is a body of research with supporting evidence that policies can make a difference when designed and delivered appropriately. This policy research is presented succinctly within the newly released NIAAA CollegeAIM matrix, which also includes a top efficacy rating for AlcoholEdu, EverFi’s online alcohol education program for incoming first-year students. Environmental strategies are a broad set of policies and programs to reduce alcohol problems among college students. There are three broad levels of policy implementation: state, community, and institutional.

Examples of state level laws include minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) law, high volume sales and consumption, such as happy-hour sales, keg registration, or pitcher sales. Examples of community-level policies include increased surveillance and enforcement by city police, server guidelines, and noise ordinances. Institutional policies include restricting alcohol to specific locations, registration of social events with alcohol, banning kegs, alcohol education programs, sanctions for student violators, and parental notification for underage students.

An education and publicity component must be considered part of the policy effort. Even if policies are in place, those who are targeted must be aware of the policies in order to comply. When new policies are created, it is important to involve students early in the decision making process. Once policies are created, they must be enforced consistently to be meaningful deterrents.

Research shows that student support for stronger policies and enforcement is greater than most students perceive it to be (see Figure 2). In a study published in the Journal of American College Health, including 32 four-year institutions, ninety percent of students supported stricter disciplinary sanctions for students who engage in alcohol-related violence. The students’ perception was that only 65 percent of their peers would support stricter disciplinary sanctions. Seventy-three percent of students supported stricter disciplinary sanctions for students who repeatedly violate campus alcohol policy, but students thought only 41 percent of their peers were supportive. This information is important to share with student to correct misperceived norms and also with stakeholders on campus. Staff, faculty, and senior leaders may be surprised by such strong student support for stronger alcohol policies and enforcement.

Figure 2. Student Support for Alcohol Policies

student support for alcohol policies everfiSource: DeJong, W., Towvim, G., & Schneider, S. (2007). Support for alcohol-control policies and enforcement strategies among US college students at 4-year institutions. Journal of American College Health, 56(3). 231-236.

Next month we will be conducting a webinar on how alcohol policies and programming relate to the practice of pre-gaming. You can register for our upcoming webinar here: Strategic Drinking: Exploring the Culture of Pre-gaming and Implications for Practice. We will be providing examples of how campuses and national fraternities and sororities have begun to address this ongoing challenge.