A national stir was created recently when a proposal by college presidents to discuss a possible drinking age shift from 21 to 18 was announced. The project was not a secret, but many media outlets jumped on the story, often seeking local angles. The presidents were somewhat misrepresented, because they merely are seeking a discussion, though their goal to move the drinking age back is clearly part of their agenda. (Note that college presidents have taken more stands lately on social issues.) Conversely, Dr. Gary Neal in Counseling and Health Services has passed on an interesting research study that may indicate that the higher age requirement has some strong science behind it.
Some suspicious sorts think this initiative is in place so universities can duck liability for drinking-related incidents. I suspect that is not a consideration. With 1,700 drinking-related college deaths annually, administrators would shudder at the notion of pushing that number higher to merely avoid liability. Indeed, one issue colleges face is that students often drink off campus to avoid university policy enforcement. Students perceive that administrators force them to drive-drink-and-drive. No one wants students to drink and drive. In fact many schools have taxi ride programs and assigning designated drivers is a simple, free, and expedient solution.
It would be nice to shift discussions on campus from enforcement to education and responsible drinking. Students can't be sheltered from alcohol, they need to learn how to drink like adults. It would be nice to teach students that college does not equal binge drinking and movies like the Animal House update, College, are promoting false perceptions of successful college life. (Disclosure: I haven't seen the movie.) It would be nice for students to feel comfortable having a drink in their room so they can stay on campus. It would also be nice for students to not have fake IDs, worry about MIP tickets, and not have to turn to older students to provide their booze.
Trinity is not anti-alcohol. What is concern is the behavior that often comes with heavy drinking: assault, sexual assault, injuries, vandalism, noise, trash, and poor academic performance. De-mystifying alcohol would be a plus, to diminish these adverse effects, but can it happen? Maybe over time. I would hate to see a return to the crazy days of the 18-year-old drinking age. Are we any better prepared now than we were 20 years ago to be able to manage that?
Students who can vote and fight in wars should be afforded other rights of adulthood. Nevertheless, one of the reasons for the change of the drinking age in the first place was high school drinking problems. Mothers Against Drunk Driving makes a strong case that lives have been saved since the drinking age went up.
Trinity University has not formally discussed this issue. I must admit, I am intrigued by the idea of a lower drinking age. I could like the idea of a 19-year age limit or bestowing drinking rights three months following high school graduation or at 19 for non-graduates. It protects the high school students (and those who share the road with them) and gives most college students a chance to exercise their adult rights. At Trinity, the approach is to educate students about alcohol to try to keep students safe.
The research makes me nervous though. So do the negative outcomes of drinking. It will be interesting to see how this discussion unfolds. It is an important topic.