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May 16, 2019

Panel: Less Than Half of Approaches in Campus Alcohol Policies Get High Marks for Efficacy

Study also offers guidance on drafting clear, evidence-based alcohol policies to reduce excessive college drinking

Alcohol policy experts and researchers have rated policies typically included in official campus alcohol policies on their likely effectiveness; in doing so, they have developed an evidence-based approach for colleges to use in analyzing and updating their campus alcohol policies. Their review found that fewer than half of the specific approaches to reduce problematic alcohol consumption are “most effective.”

Written campus alcohol policies are required for all colleges and universities by the federal government and are intended to provide all college alcohol policies and associated consequences for students and other college affiliates. Underage, binge and risky drinking are serious problems on U.S. college campuses, and many student incidents involving injury and harm have an alcohol component.

The study, published online in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, is from researchers with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Campus alcohol policies were assessed for accessibility, clarity, policy effectiveness and sanctions effectiveness, for the fifteen members of the Maryland Collaborative to Reduce College Drinking and Related Problems. It is thought to be the first time that experts and researchers have rated the effectiveness of approaches typically included in campus alcohol policies. Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels, JD, LLM, along with Chancellor Robert L. Caret, PhD, University System of Maryland, serve as the Collaborative’s co-conveners.

The collaborative is a network of 15 colleges and universities across the state whose presidents have agreed to work together with community partners to reduce alcohol use on their campuses and create environments, policies and practices using data-driven approaches.

“Our intent is to offer meaningful feedback for colleges in Maryland and across the U.S. to use to reduce excessive drinking and promote the well-being of their students,” says study co-author Molly Mitchell, JD, a senior program manager with the Bloomberg School. Mitchell also serves as the alcohol policy program manager with the Maryland Collaborative to Reduce College Drinking and Related Problems.  

“For a campus alcohol policy to be effective, students must be aware of it, must be able to understand it, and it must include policies that evidence suggests will be effective at reducing the availability of alcohol,” Mitchell says.

For the study, the researchers asked a panel of 12 alcohol policy experts and university officials to rate 35 policies and 13 sanctions commonly included in campus alcohol policies. The alcohol policy experts included five alcohol policy researchers, three vice presidents of student affairs, and a campus alcohol and drug education officer. Based on their knowledge of published academic research and expert opinion, panelists determined that that seventeen, or forty-nine percent, of the campus alcohol policies should be rated as “most effective.”

On average, the universities studied had six of the seventeen most effective polices in place, indicating the potential for improvement in schools’ ability to reduce alcohol problems on their campuses.

Policies classified as most effective were those determined by panelists as likely to comprehensively affect the physical and/or normative drinking environment on campus. Banning alcohol consumption in public places, for example, was classified as most effective because it restricts campus alcohol consumption and is likely to influence social norms around drinking. Other policies classified as most effective include: banning alcohol at student recruitment events, prohibiting alcohol delivery to campus, and prohibiting drinking games and mandatory ID checks at all campus events with alcohol.

The researchers also found that accessibility of the campus alcohol policies could be improved, with many of the schools’ policies spread across multiple locations on the schools’ websites, and that the text in the campus alcohol policies across the 15 schools was overall considered very difficult to understand. The outcome for sanctions was more positive: on average, the colleges included four of the five sanctions considered to have the strongest deterrent effect, ranging from parental notification to dismissal from housing.

Each year in the U.S., an estimated 1,825 students ages 18-24 attending 2-and 4-year colleges die from alcohol related causes. Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with injuries, vulnerability to addiction, impaired neurocognitive function, cancer and liver disease. Earlier research showed that campuses with strong campus alcohol policies also had less binge drinking and alcohol-related injuries.

“Alcohol consumption can impede the health, safety and academic success of students and campus alcohol policies are the first line of defense against alcohol problems on campus,” said Mitchell. “One way to prioritize the health and well-being of students is for colleges across the U.S. to replicate the research we did and regularly assess and improve their policies.”

As part of this research, the study authors provided each school studied with the results of the assessment as well as specific recommendations for improvement in the school’s written policies, and will assess in 2019 whether the assessment influenced the school’s Campus Alcohol Policies.

The Maryland Collaborative to Reduce College Drinking and Related Problems which analyzed the campus alcohol policies and provided schools with reports is funded by a grant from the Maryland Health Department.

“Assessing Campus Alcohol Policies: Measuring Accessibility, Clarity and Effectiveness” was written by David Jernigan, Kelsey Shields, Molly Mitchell and Amelia Arria.

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