Higher-education officials are hoping to reduce alcohol-related deaths and injuries with online alcohol awareness courses that inform and test students on the adverse effects of excessive drinking.
The initiatives at colleges from coast to coast coincide with research indicating the scope of alcohol-related problems. According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, more than 1,700 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year in alcohol-related incidents (including motor vehicle accidents), and about 600,000 students are "unintentionally injured under the influence of alcohol."
Nearly 700,000 students on college campuses are assaulted by other students who have been drinking, and 97,000 students are victims of alcohol-related "sexual assault or date rape," according to the study. Excess alcohol also keeps campus and local police busy, it was reported, with 110,000 college students arrested annually for alcohol-related violations, such as driving under the influence or public drunkenness.
In the wake of such findings, the University of Kansas is one of the latest schools to require its students to complete a web-based, interactive lesson on alcohol’s effects on the body. The requirement–designed for students 22 and younger–was announced in August, five months after two alcohol-related student deaths at the Lawrence, Kansas, campus.
The university also changed its reporting policy–now telling parents when a student commits a second alcohol violation–after one student died in a campus fraternity house, and another was found dead in a residence hall.
Kansas has joined a growing movement among college administrators to mandate alcohol awareness programs. Outside the Classroom, a Boston-based company that addresses public health issues, designed an online alcohol prevention program called AlcoholEdu, which is used at more than 500 colleges and universities nationwide, according to the company’s web site.
"Alcohol can be a significant issue in the lives of students," Marlesa Roney, Kansas’s vice provost for student success, said in a statement. "By providing detailed information on the effects of alcohol … we hope to help students make wise choices while in school and throughout their lifetimes."
Information provided by Kansas students who complete the online course remains confidential, according to the university’s web site. Kansas officials receive only a summary of students’ answers, and they cannot access an individual student’s answers. The online course can be completed in about two hours.
AlcoholEdu gives students a scientific look at how too much alcohol can harm the body. The program reviews how much alcohol it takes to put a student’s life at risk depending on body weight.
AlcoholEdu also requires students to spell out how they will manage the stresses of college life and how they can avoid excessive drinking.
New Kansas students who are 22 or younger were required to log in to the AlcoholEdu program sometime between Aug. 31 and Sept. 24 and complete the first part of the online lesson. Students are notified by eMail when the second lesson–which reviews teachings from the first portion, and asks students how they are handling hectic college schedules–is made available online.
Penn State University launched its AlcoholEdu program last year, and campus officials said 94 percent of students finished the internet lesson. Participants included non-first-year students, because some fraternities and sororities required completion of the program at the start of the school year.
Penn State unveiled its AlcoholEdu course after receiving a $245,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which usually funds journalism programs nationwide.
More than one-third of all first-year students at four-year colleges and universities now take AlcoholEdu online lessons, the company says.