Admin hopes alcohol education e-course will cut trips to ER

An “alarming increase in students going to the ER” spurred the change, Dean Susan Art said

By Amy Myers

After a record year of alcohol-related hospitalizations, incoming first-years took an online course on alcohol prevention before arriving on campus this fall, the first such test administered by the University.

The program, called AlcoholEdu, includes a series of videos and statistics aimed to educate students on responsible drinking behaviors. The new requirement follows an increase in alcohol-related incidents in the past year.

Dean of Students in the College Susan Art said the “alarming increase in students going to the ER” was “the immediate impetus” for introducing the course to all first-years.

“The number of alcohol-related hospitalizations doubled from the year before,” Art said.

Administrators were unsure whether the increase in drinking in the 2009–2010 year was an anomaly or part of a larger trend toward increased alcohol use by students on campus, Art said.

Interactive features of AlcoholEdu include a Blood Alcohol Content calculator and goal-setting surveys. The program culminates in a final exam on the topics such as a standard drink and responses to alcohol poisoning.

A series of videos and animations, depicting college drinking scenarios, advises participants to “find other things to do besides drinking” and “avoid activities that might cause [a student] to chug alcohol.”

The College Programming Office (CPO) organized student focus groups to test potential programs for the incoming class. Administrators then tested CPO’s suggested programs before choosing AlcoholEdu. “It was so clearly the best,” Art said.

Art pointed to other peer institutions who have already adopted the program; 500 schools have done so. “Harvard, for instance, uses [AlcoholEdu] with a lot of success,” Art said.

AlcoholEdu was created by Outside the Classroom, which produces similar programs, such as SexualAssaultEdu and MentalHealthEdu. The company’s website reports that the use of the program leads to a proven decrease in student drinking, supported by case studies at Villanova University.

In previous years, alcohol education at the University was limited to a series of Chicago Life meetings held during O-Week. Now, students assisting in O-Week activities will also have been required to complete the course prior to arriving on campus.

The change in alcohol education does not signal a shift in the University’s overall policy toward drinking, according to Art. “We don’t consider ourselves to be an arm of the Illinois state law enforcement,” she said.

Art and other administrators plan to monitor the Class of 2014’s behavior and the number of alcohol-related incidents over the year, though she cautioned against drawing conclusions from the data collected in a single year. “Certainly, we will be interested to see what the situation looks like,” Art said. She maintained that the University’s current, non-punitive position encourages good decision-making.

Incoming first-year Chris Frock, who took the program, said AlcoholEdu reviewed information taught in high school health classrooms. “In general, I’m glad the creators of AlcoholEdu wanted to reach out to us, but it fell a little flat in the execution,” Frock wrote in an e-mail. “I just want the program to be more authentic and realistic, and less time-consuming, not an online version of Health I.”

Frock pointed to dated video segments and a dearth of surveys as the main problems with the course. Art acknowledged the program’s format was “cheesy” but hoped the information would nevertheless benefit the incoming class.

Frock praised the program for its use of statistics to argue that college binge drinking isn’t the norm. “I’m glad to see that, except maybe at notorious party schools, most students don’t drink, and safely and reasonably do so when they do drink,” he wrote.