Eastern Illinois University plans to once again use an innovative approach to addressing the issue of high-risk alcohol consumption by implementing AlcoholEdu, a mandatory online alcohol education program being adopted by public and private institutions around the country.
According to Daniel P. Nadler, vice president for student affairs, Eastern will be the first institution in Illinois to implement AlcoholEdu for all new incoming freshman and transfer students. He believes the Charleston campus to be among good company.
"Basically, from the outset, AlcoholEdu has been marketed to the leading universities in the country," he said. Villanova University was the first in the nation (2001) to require its incoming freshmen to complete the course. The program has since been used on more than 450 campuses nationwide, including Princeton University, Syracuse University, the University of Southern California and the University of California at Berkeley.
According to Nadler, the purpose of AlcoholEdu is reinforcing those who abstain from alcohol while helping those who choose to drink to reduce their risk of harm and negative consequences.
Eric S. Davidson, associate director of the EIU Health Service, relates such an approach to that used by parents when teaching their children about crossing the street.
"Most parents do not want their children to cross the streets and strongly tell their children not to do so, and yet most parents will also instruct their children to look both ways in the event they decide to cross the street.
"We want our students to abstain from alcohol use; however, we want to provide education and tools to those choosing to drink to help minimize negative consequences which will impact their health and academic standing," Davidson said.
"We know that AlcoholEdu will help educate our students," Nadler said. "Last year, 72 percent of EIU students said they knew more about blood alcohol concentration levels and 52 percent said they knew more about the ways alcohol affects someone's ability to give consent for sex after taking the course. Overall, self-assessed knowledge about the effects of alcohol increased substantially after taking the course."
Research by Andrew Wall, a former EIU education professor, indicates that, nationally, students who completed AlcoholEdu have reported "50 percent fewer negative health, social and academic consequences related to drinking." Listed among these "negative consequences" were class absences, blackouts, hangovers, unprotected sex, vomiting in public, injuries and poor athletic performance.
Davidson indicates that AlcoholEdu appears to be helping improve the alcohol situation at EIU.
"Last fall, decreases in drinking behaviors among our first-year students enrolled in University Foundations was observed. Our Problem Assessment Team indicated that there were fewer and less severe incidents during our opening weekend, and residence life staff in one of our predominately freshmen halls reported a reduction of approximately 50 percent in alcohol policy violations."
Eastern's incoming new freshmen and transfer students have learned about the AlcoholEdu mandate as they report for orientation. The university has, for many years, included alcohol education in its orientation programs, and it has been easy to incorporate the new information into presentations given to both students and their parents.
The program calls for each student to finish Part 1 of the three-hour Web-based course before arriving on campus later this month. Students are asked for information (kept confidential) regarding their individual drinking behaviors, and are then asked to take a pre-test and study three chapters, which include videos and graphics imparting facts and statistics about alcohol and its physiological effects. Information is based upon information provided by students; those abstaining from alcohol receive slightly different information than those indicating low-risk and high-risk alcohol consumption.
Students are encouraged to complete the course in more than one sitting, taking it at their own pace. Afterward, they are asked to take an online exam testing their general knowledge of alcohol consumption (i.e., blood alcohol concentration, activities increasing the odds of a blackout and hangover cures).
Students scoring less than 70 percent will be required to take Part 1 again until they achieve a passing score. The results do not affect a student's academic record.
"This is not a graded course, and there are no negative consequences for those who complete it," Nadler said. "Those not completing the course will have a hold placed on their educational records."
Students will be asked to complete a follow-up session approximately three weeks after classes begin.
A new feature to AlcoholEdu this year is AlterEdu, a new online community designed for college students who are looking for vibrant social and intellectual experiences that aren't defined by alcohol. This social networking site provides students with the opportunity to connect to others who do not drink, discover and share alcohol-free opportunities with others, and subscribe to blogs.
According to Nadler, incoming freshmen and transfers planning to attend Eastern in the fall of 2008 are required to participate in the AlcoholEdu program.
"We've signed a multi-year agreement (with the AlcoholEdu company), with the intent of implementing the program and letting it work for three or four years to determine its effectiveness," he said.
Eastern is also working to expand the program's by offering the course as part of resident assistant and orientation leader training, educational offerings for recognized student organizations, and as supplemental curricula for academic courses.