The primary purposes of this national study, which is the first of its kind, were to explore sanctions imposed on college students who violated institutional alcohol policies and to assess the effectiveness of these sanctions in deterring students from repeating these behaviors in the future. The characteristics of students, institutions, policies, and procedures, along with specific types of incidents and both pre-incident and post-incident factors were examined in relation to initial and repeated violations of policies regarding underage and excessive drinking.
In March 2011, 688 student conduct administrators were contacted by e-mail and asked to complete a brief survey designed to collect information about their institutions, student populations, and disciplinary incidents involving alcohol policy violations. They were also asked to forward an e-mail message with a link to another survey to 10 randomly selected students who had violated their institutional alcohol policies during the previous six months. A total of 230 administrators and 154 students submitted surveys.
Most of the violations reported by students involved underage drinking in combination with noise and other disruptive behaviors, particularly in residence halls. However, almost 20% said they had engaged in excessive drinking combined with behaviors that posed a significant threat to themselves or others (for example, driving while intoxicated or alcohol poisoning requiring hospitalization).
Student responses suggest that colleges and universities may be focused on less effective sanctions and are less likely to use sanctions that students believe are more effective. More than half of the students were required to participate in alcohol education programs as a sanction. Monetary fines, community service, and warnings not to repeat the behavior were also used as sanctions. However, only 39% of the students said that these and other common sanctions were deterrents, whereas 79% said that such sanctions simply make students more cautious so as not to get caught in the future. According to the students, some of the more effective sanctions include receiving an alcohol assessment, participating in an alcohol treatment program, having parents notified, and being involved in the criminal justice system (local police and courts).
However, few students said they had been required to have an alcohol assessment (13%) or to participate in an alcohol treatment program (16%), perhaps because so few institutions measure the blood alcohol level of students, making it difficult to justify requiring alcohol assessment or treatment. Finally, fewer than half of the students had their parents notified by an institutional official and fewer than half had been involved in the criminal justice system. One other interesting finding was that female students were three times as likely as male students to stop binge drinking after experiencing the disciplinary process.
The data generated by this study, while based on a limited sample, provided useful information and yielded a number of suggestions that should be considered if institutions want to deter students from violating institutional alcohol policies. The data also demand that specifically targeted institutional assessment be conducted to determine effective sanctions for different campuses.
The study was funded by The Century Council in cooperation with the Association for Student Conduct Administration and the National Judicial College.
The pilot version of this study is also available.