U requires freshman alcohol course

More than 500 other colleges also use the course.

Tyler Gieseke

Amid a growing push to educate college students on the dangers of high-risk drinking, the University of Minnesota required an online alcohol course this summer for incoming freshmen.

AlcoholEdu teaches students alcohol safety and surveys how they use and think about alcohol. Many other colleges, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, also use the two-and-a-half hour class.

“What we won’t do is tell you not to drink,” the course introduction says. “Our job is to provide reliable information so that you can make your own
decisions about alcohol.”

In an email sent over the summer with a link to the class, the University told freshmen they were required to complete the first portion of the course by Welcome Week. But those who didn’t complete the course weren’t penalized.

Students are expected to take a second part of the course during the semester, said Dave Golden, Boynton Health Service spokesman, though  completion again won’t be enforced.

Golden said data from AlcoholEdu shows the course can decrease high-risk drinking — a cause for concern on campus.

Among Minnesota college students, about one in four said they had engaged in high-risk drinking in the past two weeks, according to Boynton’s 2012 College Student Health Survey.

The survey defines high-risk drinking as consuming five or more drinks in one sitting.

Starting this year, Madison required AlcoholEdu for incoming freshmen, transfer students and those returning to University housing, said Reonda Washington, community health specialist for Madison’s University Health Services.

The university was “behind the curve” for alcohol education compared to other universities, Washington said. She said more than 500 other colleges and universities have implemented the course.

Although The Princeton Review ranked Madison eighth on its list of “party schools” for the 2013-14 academic year, Washington said the course isn’t being offered because of that. 

“We are just wanting to address drinking in general,” she said. “It’s an issue on every college campus.”

Once students complete both parts of the course, the administration can determine if it has affected students’ alcohol use, she said.

Beginning next year, Washington said, Madison students will have holds placed on their records if they don’t complete AlcoholEdu. This year, 90 percent of required students completed the course.

Even though University of Minnesota students don’t face a penalty for skipping the course, more than 80 percent of incoming freshmen finished the first part.

“We would have liked to see 100 percent,” Golden said, but added he was “very happy with the number.”

Students’ experience

Students who took AlcoholEdu watched videos and took quizzes about the effects of drinking alcohol and the importance of consent in a sexual experience.

Freshman Claire Dolney said she learned drinking isn’t as prevalent on campus as she had assumed.

Only 10 percent of incoming students said they engaged in heavy drinking three or more times in the past two weeks, according to AlcoholEdu data from all participating schools.

About one-third of incoming students said they didn’t drink at all in the past year, according to the same data.

Some University students said the course’s information was good, but the delivery could have been better.

“It was kind of long,” Dolney said. 

She also said that some of the information seemed to be common sense.

Child psychology freshman Laura Hanzal said the course didn’t change her opinions about drinking, and she thought it was “way too long.”

But she said she thought some information was helpful, including details about Minnesota’s new medical amnesty law, which went into effect
Aug. 1.

Under the law, an underage student who is drinking can call an ambulance for a friend with no risk of either of them getting a drinking ticket.

“I’m really glad that I know that now,” Hanzal said.