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Federal Grant Helps UW-Eau Claire Launch Initiative to Reduce High-Risk Drinking

RELEASED: June 20, 2005

EAU CLAIRE — The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has been awarded a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to launch a comprehensive program aimed at reducing rates of drinking among first-year students.

The program will be implemented through UW-Eau Claire's newly created Center for Alcohol Studies and Education and will involve collaboration among the university, Eau Claire City-County Health Department, law enforcement, alcohol distributors, parents and students.

UW-Eau Claire's successful grant application noted Harvard University research has found that college students in states with high binge drinking rates among the general population show significantly higher binge drinking levels than students in states with low binge drinking levels. Wisconsin has the highest binge drinking level of the 40 states studied.

Results of the 2004 Core Alcohol and Drug Survey, administered by the Core Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, indicate Wisconsin college students, including those at UW-Eau Claire, consume alcohol at rates far above the national average. For example, survey results indicate nearly 83 percent of UW-Eau Claire students consumed alcohol in the last 30 days compared with 69 percent of students from the national survey. There have also been several tragedies involving students, including death, as a result of alcohol abuse in recent years.

"While UW-Eau Claire has long been engaged in a number of successful alcohol education and abuse prevention initiatives, this grant will provide much needed financial resources for our efforts and help us to focus more effectively on first-year students," said Interim Chancellor Vicki Lord Larson.

"When it comes to alcohol abuse prevention, you have to fight fire with fire, and that takes money and staffing," said Jodi Thesing-Ritter, associate dean of student development.

"This grant will enable the university to move forward with an important alcohol initiative at a time when there is no state money available for staffing or program development."

The goals of the program will include increasing awareness of the consequences of high-risk drinking, enhancing enforcement of state laws and university policies regarding underage and high-risk drinking, reducing the number of students who drive under the influence, combating precollege students' perceptions that underage and high-risk drinking are "rites of passage" and reducing the negative consequences of underage and high-risk drinking among first-year students.

The program will employ seven interlocking strategies to reduce drinking among first-year students:

  • Discussions about alcohol laws and policies with parents and students during new student orientation.
  • Increasing enforcement of drinking age laws.
  • Strengthening and promoting campuswide alcohol policies.
  • Education about personal liability related to high-risk drinking.
  • Abuse prevention marketing campaigns.
  • Curriculum inclusion and faculty-student collaborative research projects.
  • Outreach education in local middle and high schools.

The grant will fund the salary for a director of the Center for Alcohol Studies and Education, additional staff hours for university police to enforce alcohol-related laws, and public awareness marketing campaigns.

"Research clearly indicates that to be successful, you must have a comprehensive, multi-pronged approach to alcohol abuse education and prevention," said Kimberly Barrett, associate vice chancellor of Student Development and Diversity.

The program also will utilize UW-Eau Claire's academic expertise. Sixteen research grants will be made available for faculty-student undergraduate research projects on physiological, social and other aspects of alcohol abuse as well as identifying best practices for reducing high-risk drinking.

To employ faculty members' critical role in changing campus culture, the program includes a faculty development workshop and a $100 honorarium for First Year Experience course instructors. Local alcohol distributors will provide funding for speakers and materials for the faculty development workshop.

"First Year Experience courses are an important venue for helping students adjust to college life, and so it is appropriate that part of the curriculum be devoted to social and behavioral issues such as responsible alcohol consumption," said Steve Tallant, interim provost and vice chancellor.

According to Thesing-Ritter, if students establish responsible attitudes and behaviors about drinking during their first year on campus, they increase their chances for long-term academic success.

"Hopefully, this program will help increase retention rates," she said. "Alcohol and drug abuse are often cited as the biggest factors for failure of college-aged men. It's also important because we don't want to lose any more students to alcohol abuse."



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