Survey: College Parents View Excessive Drinking on Campus as a Serious Problem

Marjorie Malpiede / December 16, 2016

Parents want more information than they are getting on programming and intervention policies

Nine out of ten parents of college students view excessive drinking as either a “very serious” (47 percent) or “somewhat serious” (44 percent) problem on college campuses, according to a newly released national survey.

Parents are nearly as concerned about drinking on campus as they are about their children’s GPAs, and more concerned than about other hot-button issues like race relations on campus.

Parents are concerned in part because they overwhelmingly believe drinking leads to negative consequences, including poor academic performance (92 percent), drunk driving (85 percent), sexual assault (79 percent), and alcohol use disorders (77 percent). There is widespread agreement that campus alcohol policies should include disciplinary action on the part of institutions, including suspension or expulsion for more serious violations.

“Drinking on campus is certainly not a new phenomenon, but this survey shows parents are not willing to tolerate it as a rite of passage” said Steve Koczela, President of the MassINC Polling Group, which conducted the survey on behalf of the Mary Christie Foundation and the Hazelden Betty Ford Institute for Recovery Advocacy.

Data from the National Institute of Health shows 60 percent of college students drink in a given month, and two out of three of these engage in binge drinking. One in four report academic challenges related to drinking, and one in five meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder. In a given year, 97,000 students report alcohol-related sexual assault, and 1,825 students die in alcohol-related incidents.

“It is encouraging to see that parents understand the risks associated with drinking and support colleges intervening before serious consequences arise,” said Nick Motu, President of the Institute for Recovery Advocacy at the Hazelden Betty Ford Institute for Recovery Advocacy. “College is an important developmental time when interventions in this area make a big difference in students’ futures.”

The survey also found that parents want more information, but they are having a hard time finding it. Among those who called campus drinking an important consideration in choosing a college, 47 percent said it was difficult to find the information they were looking for. Parents overwhelmingly wanted to be informed if their child is involved in a drinking-related incident while at school, and 54 percent think such notifications are part of the campus disciplinary policy at their student’s school. In fact, campus policies vary widely, and parental notification likely happens far less often than parents think and want.

“I think some might view notifying parents for alcohol violations as something that is inconsistent with the general principle that college students need to learn to be responsible and develop autonomy. But this is different. Excessive drinking is a health concern and can interfere with academic success. Parental notification is a way to partner with parents to get students back on track and foster student responsibility,” said Dr. Amelia Arria of the University of Maryland School of Public Health.

While concern is high overall, it varies across subgroups. Parents of students of color are more likely to seek information on alcohol use and policies before admission. Nearly seven in ten parents of African American students said concerns about drinking on campus were very important in choosing a school; 63 percent of parents of Latino students said the same. Only 45 percent of white parents called this information very important.

The survey also found:

Parents are very concerned about sexual assault as a result of drinking; 38 percent think it is “very common” and another 41 percent think it is “somewhat common.” Concern is highest among mothers and the parents of female students, who are more likely to think sexual assault is common and to be worried about drinking putting their child at risk of assault.

Despite their concerns, most parents say they are at least somewhat satisfied with the alcohol policies on their student’s campus. But large percentages are also unsure whether specific items are included in those policies, further illustrating the information gap on the issue.

Parents overwhelmingly agree with statements about the seriousness of drinking on campus, including concerns about health consequences (95 percent), legal consequences (94 percent), and academic consequences (93 percent). Only 17 agree that underage drinking teaches students how to drink responsibly when they are of age.

About the Poll
These results are based on a national survey of 1,013 parents of college students living at school. The survey was conducted online between September 30 and October 11, 2016. Results were weighted to estimated demographics of the US population of parents of college students. Demographic estimates were generated using data from the Census Bureau and other publicly available sources. The poll was sponsored by the Mary Christie Foundation and the Hazelden Betty Ford Institute for Recovery Advocacy.

For more information about the survey, please contact:
Rich Parr, MassINC Polling Group Research Director