A long report by the Chronicle of Higher Education finds alcohol abuse among college students nearly apocalyptic. Each year 1800 college students die from alcohol-related causes and consumption of booze seems to keep rising. One college town police officer said:
Average blood-alcohol levels in students stopped by the police have risen steadily—this year one blew a 0.33, more than four times the legal limit. With heavier drinking, the police now make drunk-driving arrests in midmorning, pulling over students on their way to class still intoxicated from the night before.
The article cites the influence of fraternities and football fans for binge-drinking. No surprise there, but the writers, Karin Fischer and Eric Hoover, also point to a less obvious cause: higher education’s increasing inability to define its purpose and values. One section title of the report: “If Students Have Time to Get Drunk, Colleges Aren’t Doing Their Job.”
The University of Georgia’s Report of the Task Force on General Education and Student Learning, featured by the Chronicle, ties the issue of alcohol and drug abuse to academic rigor. Though the focus of the task force was academic performance, one outcome was the introduction of a parental notification system for alcohol-related offenses. UGA is right to recognize that the two issues are sides of the same coin. Another section of the UGA report, “Seven-Day-a-Week University,” recommends more university-sponsored weekend events and more Friday classes that “will serve to support a new academic culture on this campus.”
The authors of the Chronicle article also emphasize “environmental factors” like a high density of bars near campus and cheap-as-dirt drink specials aimed at students. This environment arguably constitutes an attractive nuisance, rather like an unfenced swimming pool. The owner or manager of such a space is required by law to take reasonable steps to prevent harm to those who may be attracted to the environment but unable to handle it.
The Chronicle report proposes some sensible, concrete solutions to this end—community coalitions with local bar owners, tougher local policing, and municipal ordinances limiting drink specials and otherwise restricting alcohol sales.
Beyond that, colleges must do more to address the serious psychological and behavioral problems that cause some students to binge drink and abuse drugs. But the accessible solution for most students has always been right in front of college leadership: additional school work and study time; additional class time; and, of course, additional guidance.
Students need to be taught and counseled in a safe learning environment. This is what colleges once called the “education of the whole person.” But in the research-obsessed, consumer-oriented, modern university, there is little room for concern about students’ development as people. Governing boards, administrators, and faculties need to do the hard work—as their colleagues at the University of Georgia propose—and take back the campus as a place of learning.