A legacy of prevention
High-risk drinking on college campuses is a serious national issue. According to a study published in the “Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs,” 1,825 college students die from alcohol-related accidents each year, and nearly 600,000 are injured while drunk. High-risk drinking contributes to alarming rates of violence and sexual assault, and 25 percent of students report academic consequences related to alcohol.
With all that is at stake with high-risk drinking, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln took aim at this issue in the 1990s and asked Educational Psychology professor Ian Newman to help lead an initiative to reduce this high-risk behavior. A communitywide response led to great success at Nebraska, and that success expanded to college campuses statewide, resulting in a legacy of prevention.
Newman’s background in public health guided the prevention efforts. He had helped found the Nebraska Prevention Center for Alcohol and Drug Abuse in 1979, where he began studying the factors that contributed to high-risk drinking on campus. By engaging the community in prevention strategies, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln was able to cut its student rate of high-risk drinking by 24 percent.
“To reduce high-risk drinking, the whole community has to be involved,” said Newman, professor of educational psychology. “We worked together with the vice chancellor of student affairs, the Lincoln police chief, alcohol sellers and others across campus and the community.”
From the work of this coalition, came many lasting outcomes that are still making a difference today. An unmistakably different style of drivers’ licenses for underage people was one of those prevention strategies—a strategy jointly developed with the state’s grocery industry association. Underage licenses have a vertical orientation instead of horizontal, to quickly and easily identify those who are underage.
Perhaps the most impactful outcome of this prevention effort was the development of a statewide organization to duplicate successful strategies from the Lincoln campus at other institutions of higher learning. The Nebraska Collegiate Consortium to Reduce High-Risk Drinking is funded in part through a grant from the Nebraska Department of Roads, Highway Safety Office and includes all four campuses of the University of Nebraska, Nebraska state colleges, 21 community colleges, and several private colleges.
“The underlying principles of what we created at UNL apply in North Platte, Crete or wherever it might be,” said Newman. “We share training programs, we bring people in, we run webinars and conferences. We do all we can to elevate the awareness of what works and what doesn’t across campuses in Nebraska.”
The consortium developed an online alcohol profile for incoming freshman at 13 of the consortium colleges that provides students with immediate feedback on their risk factors and corrects misperceptions about alcohol use at their colleges. Other activities of the consortium include an online program to educate parents and data collection to track effectiveness.
The work of the consortium is supported by Newman’s colleagues Duane Shell, research professor; Megan Hopkins, project manager; and Linda Major, assistant to the vice chancellor for student affairs. Together they maintain and advance a long-standing and effective effort to reduce high-risk underage drinking on the Lincoln campus and across Nebraska. Keeping lines of communications open and flowing with practical and effective information is helping to keep Nebraskans safer.
“There’s a lot of polarization around drinking, and we need to keep the conversation going about our common objectives,” said Newman.
For more information, on the Consortium visit: nebraskaconsortium.org and the webpage of the Nebraska Prevention Center for Alcohol and Drug Abuse.