Hoffman Rentner

Barbara Hoffman, left, Wellness Connection, and Dr. Terry Rentner, journalism, are heading up BGSU's campaign against high-risk drinking.

U.S. Department of Education grant backs BGSU

BGSU is among 20 colleges and universities—and the only one in Ohio—to be awarded a U.S. Department of Education grant aimed at preventing high-risk drinking or violent behavior among college students.

One of 155 applicants nationwide, BGSU received the maximum $300,000 award for a two-year project expanding the University’s efforts to reduce student high-risk drinking, defined as having five or more alcoholic drinks in a sitting more than once in a two-week period.

Although that definition applied for about 56 percent of BGSU students surveyed in a biennial American College Health Association assessment last fall, the percentage has dropped by 5.6 percent since 2000. Contributing to the reduction has been what’s called a social norms approach, which has been used since 1997 in an attempt to change student attitudes and behaviors and the campus social environment.

Pointing out that student perception of alcohol consumption by peers is much higher than reality is an example of the social norms approach, which will remain a primary part of the overall strategy. In response to that approach, less frequent high-risk drinkers have indicated they have changed their habits or are considering doing so, but “those who are the highest-risk drinkers pay little or no attention to the social norm message,” said Dr. Terry Rentner, journalism department chair and director of the new grant project.

Falling into the highest-risk category are first-year students, athletes and members of fraternities and sororities, all of whom will be targets of the secondary strategies that are key to the project.

Each of those groups will be required to complete AlcoholEdu, an interactive, online prevention program aimed at such populations of students. Created by Outside The Classroom, a Needham, Mass.-based company, the course combines prevention strategies with science-based alcohol education in an effort to motivate behavior change; alter unrealistic expectations about the effects of alcohol; link choices about drinking to academic and personal success, and help students make safer, healthier decisions about alcohol.

Barbara Hoffman, health promotion coordinator at the Wellness Connection and coordinator of the grant project, said support will be needed from collaborating campus areas—including athletics, Greek affairs and the BGeXperience program—to ensure students complete AlcoholEdu.

Some fraternities and sororities are requiring the program for their members from the national level, she added, noting that it assesses students’ behavior before and after they take the course.

The other new strategy in the University’s integrated approach is training of Student Health Service and Wood County Hospital Emergency Room staff, as well as campus and city police and other BGSU representatives, to deal with alcohol poisoning. Bowling Green is the first university to receive grant funds to implement National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism guidelines for health care providers. They will be trained to use the guidelines for engaging students with an alcohol problem and referring them to a Wellness Connection counselor for help.

“The key is engaging,” said Rentner, whose campaign against high-risk drinking at BGSU has been backed since 1997 with yearly $25,000 grants from the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services. The University received an additional $76,292 from the U.S. Department of Education in 1999 for what the department deemed one of seven model programs in the nation.

The new federal award will help BGSU serve as a model for others, too, in terms of the effectiveness of social norming, AlcoholEdu, and campus and community training, Rentner said.

“Social norms programming in itself is not the magic bullet,” she pointed out, citing the importance of complementary strategies.

Considering the continuing influx of new students, Hoffman added, an effective fight against alcohol abuse on campus requires workable policy and a coalition with the city. She co-chairs—and Rentner is a member of—the University Committee on Alcohol and Other Drug Issues, which also includes community representatives.

“It helps when you have a lot of people coming together to discuss the issue,” Hoffman said. “Ultimately, all of this affects (student) retention.”

And progress, said Rentner, “is a slow change, but any health behavior is going to be a slow change.”
July 25, 2005