Colleges and universities from across the country, including the University of the South, are joining forces to address high-risk drinking on American campuses. This new group initiative—the Learning Collaborative on High-Risk Drinking—will use comprehensive evaluation and measurement techniques to identify and implement the most effective ways to confront this persistent problem and lessen the harm it causes.
“We are facing a growing public health crisis with binge drinking,” said Sewanee Vice-Chancellor John McCardell. “Every college or university president knows the terrible dread of having a student die of an alcohol-related cause. Strategies based on harm reduction and environmental management have been successful in reducing underage alcohol abuse. By sharing our ideas and experience we have a better chance of finding solutions that improve our success rates.” McCardell is respected national figure in the public discussion about higher education and student life, and the founder of Choose Responsibility, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to engage the public in informed and dispassionate debate about the effects of legislation mandating a legal drinking age of 21.
Fourteen institutions have joined the Collaborative to date. In addition to Sewanee, they are: Boston University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Duke University, Frostburg State University, Northwestern University, Ohio University, Princeton University, Purdue University, Stanford University, Stony Brook University, University of Wyoming, and Wesleyan University. The Collaborative will accept additional schools through May 20.
“Binge drinking is a serious public health challenge, leading to injury and in some cases, death, for hundreds of thousands of college students each year,” said U.S Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “HHS agencies have tackled this issue over the years, strengthening the evidence base and identifying interventions that work to reduce binge drinking. The Learning Collaborative on High-Risk Drinking is a promising initiative that will implement evidence-based practices at college campuses around the nation. We look forward to partnering with college leadership on this effort.”
Dedicated teams from each school in the Collaborative—composed of students and administrators—will convene for a series of face-to-face meetings beginning in June and lasting through July 2012, after which the group expects to publish its findings.
“Close to 40 percent of college students in the United States engage in binge drinking, and that number has remained virtually unchanged for decades,” said Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim, a leader in the effort. “By collaborating on this issue, comparing our experiences, and learning from each other’s best practices, we believe we are much more likely to make meaningful and lasting progress than if each school attempts to tackle this critical issue on its own.”
Almost 2,000 college students in the United States die each year from alcohol-related injuries, including motor vehicle accidents, and an estimated 600,000 students are injured while under the influence, according to research from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. In addition, research has consistently shown that binge drinking often leads to sexual abuse and unsafe sex as well as academic problems.
The Learning Collaborative methodology was developed by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Cambridge, Mass., and is aimed at spreading and adapting knowledge to different settings in order to address a given problem or health concern. This model has already been used successfully hundreds of times in medicine and public health. A centerpiece of the methodology is its focus on measurement; data will be shared and compared among participant institutions with the goal of both lowering the rate of binge drinking and reducing the incidence of the harm associated with this behavior.
The Learning Collaborative on High-Risk Drinking is the inaugural effort of the National College Health Improvement Project (NCHIP), a joint undertaking between Dartmouth College and The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. NCHIP aims to bring population health improvement methods to bear on problems affecting student health and plans to organize future collaboratives on other health issues.