First Years Evade AlcoholEdu

Andrew Wickerham

Nearly two months into their Colgate careers, members of the Class of 2010 this past week participated in the second phase of a long-forgotten, and apparently non-mandated, piece of orientation: AlcoholEdu.

The subject of several articles in this newspaper and a topic of conversation across the residential quad this fall, AlcoholEdu is now in the midst of sending e-mail requests for students to take part two of the program, a section designed to be completed 60 days after completing the main course.

A return to “The Boozeless Snooze” prompted complaints from many first-years.

“It was nice to review some hard facts about drinking the first time around, but enough is enough,” first-year Lindsey Simpson said.

“Again? Believe me, I get it! Going to the hospital, bad, staying out of the hospital; good,” first-year Nick Parry said.

Others had more off-beat uses for the program, such as using the hypothetical blood alcohol content (BAC) calculator Web site provided by AlcoholEdu to determine one’s weekend BAC.

Many students attributed their increased apathy to a report in the September 28 edition of this newspaper that cited a “90 percent participation rate” in the AlcoholEdu program. Many stated a belief that the program was mandatory, with strict penalties for those who did not complete the course.

“It’s almost funny that they say that; we were concerned our letter [describing AlcoholEdu] wasn’t strong enough,” Coordinator of Alcohol and Other Drug Education Jane Jones said.

Jones noted that 96 percent of the first-year class, or 721 students, signed into AlcoholEdu this summer, and 68 percent completed the course. As of October sixth, 81 students were involved in part two of the program, “but that goes all the way back to students who took part one in July,” Jones said, alluding to the rolling process for part two.

Director of Counseling and Psychological Services Mark Thompson explained that, while all schools that receive federal funds are required to have alcohol and substance education, “Colgate does not technically mandate AlcoholEdu. We look at it as a strongly encouraged community responsibility.”

Both Jones and Thompson noted that there are colleges where competition of education programs is mandatory, citing Hamilton College as an example.

“They say that those who don’t complete are in violation of school policy and are subject to various penalties,” Thompson said.

Despite the occasional student’s grumbling about the program, Jones and Thompson see clear benefits to an internet-based course. According to Thompson, student feedback prompted Colgate to begin using AlcoholEdu as an alternative to an alcohol lecture during orientation weekend.

“Part of the feedback we received was that students were oversaturated by the end of orientation weekend,” Thompson said. “AlcoholEdu seems to be the best way to accomplish the task.”

Student surveys seem to reinforce this perception. Jones noted that in the fall 2005 exit survey, 94 percent of participants from the Class of 2009 said they found the material helpful to some extent. Only 9 percent of 2009 participants said they would not recommend the program.

Thompson deals with the participation rate realistically.

“Excessive alcohol use has long been identified as one of the top three problems on college campuses,” he said. “We don’t go after that other four percent, but we hope that the five hours spent on the program is worth having all of us in the same place making fewer high-risk decisions. If some students did not like it, that’s ok – at least the information is out there.”

Jones reflected this position.

“It’s a risk-reduction program,” she said.

With multiple built-in student feedback features, AlcoholEdu is a program in constant transition. Just one part of Colgate’s alcohol education program, which stretches across multiple class levels, the online program nevertheless receives most of the public attention.

“Far fewer students hate [AlcoholEdu],” Thompson said, “But we anticipate that the negative opinions will get the most attention. We’re willing to meet with students to make our program better.”