UC Berkeley Press Release
New online course in alcohol awareness to be required of all new incoming students
BERKELEY – All new incoming students at the University of California, Berkeley, this fall will be required to take an online course in alcohol awareness that already has proven successful in a pilot program on campus.
The program, AlcoholEdu for College, is now required for all incoming students - about 6,900 this year - from teenage freshman to undergraduate students of any age who are new to the campus. It is tailored to individual students, based on how they answer personal questions such as questions about their gender, their current alcohol use, whether family members drink, if they are athletes or whether they use other drugs. A student who abstains from alcohol, for example, will take a different online course than someone who drinks regularly.
"I think this is a great program," UC Berkeley Dean of Students Karen Kenney said. "It's important that all of our students have this sort of clear, easy-to-understand information before they arrive on campus."
The two-step AlcoholEdu program requires students to take an initial two-hour session, which includes a test, by Aug. 19, the Friday before Welcome Week. Welcome Week precedes the first day of classes, Aug. 29, and is a time for students to get to know the campus through workshops, orientations, tours and receptions.
A shorter, 15-minute follow-up session of AlcoholEdu must be completed by Oct.20.
Created five years ago by Outside The Classroom, Inc., AlcoholEdu is used at many other universities as part of their new student orientations.
UC Berkeley's decision to include AlcoholEdu as part of its orientation is one of several campus efforts to address alcohol usage by students. A survey of UC Berkeley students in 2003 found that 79 percent of all UC Berkeley students reported drinking alcohol in the past semester - and 61 percent of those drinkers said they got drunk.
Other campus efforts include:
- Working with the local police to support increased enforcement of alcohol-related infractions in the campus neighborhoods.
- Participating in a joint UC-California State University alcohol initiative (the Safer California project) to poll students and assess the scope of alcohol use on campus. This has led to recommendations for effective intervention strategies.
- Placing peer counselors trained in alcohol education in all residence halls, sororities, fraternities and co-ops.
- Offering evening events during Welcome Week such as movie nights, a carnival, and charity poker tournaments to avoid a crush of students seeking house parties on the south side of campus, where most off-campus, alcohol-related infractions happen.
- Banning alcohol last May at all fraternity and sorority events. The ban remains in place.
"AlcoholEdu is one piece of what will be a comprehensive plan that will ensure students make better, safer decisions about alcohol," Kenney said.
The AlcoholEdu program has been required previously at UC Berkeley only for students who had violated alcohol rules at campus-run student housing. The program was so successful - students taking the program were half as likely to have repeat alcohol-related violations than those who didn't - that there was broad interest in making it a requirement for all incoming students, said Stacy Holguin, manager of judicial affairs and compliance in UC Berkeley's Office of Student Development.
She added that, in the past, UC Berkeley's alcohol policies were described to new students as part of a much larger orientation session. Now, she said, "wider access to technology has made it easier to make sure all new students receive - and understand - the information."
"Our overall goal is that students have the information they need to make solid decisions about how they are going to respond when alcohol is offered to them," said Holguin. "By having the entire incoming class take this course, they'll have a common language and understanding to be able to talk about alcohol and make decisions for themselves and as a group."
AlcoholEdu works like this: Students register online using their student ID number, answer several questions about their current alcohol use, if any, and then AlcoholEdu tailors the program to that particular student's situation.
During the program, students learn about health issues related to alcohol use, read statistics from alcohol studies and watch short video clips of students facing the same scenarios they're likely to experience in college. At the end of the at-home portion of the program, students take a comprehension test and must score at least 70 percent to pass. If they fail, they will be directed to take the test again.
The results are sent directly to Outside The Classroom, which automatically dissociates student ID numbers from the personal data in the program, guaranteeing the students' confidentiality regarding the information they provided as part of the program.
Officials at both UC Berkeley and Outside The Classroom can only confirm an individual logged into the program, find out how far in the program he or she has progressed, whether the student completed the program and, if so, what his or her score was on the final test.
About a third of the incoming class had already logged into the AlcoholEdu program by late July, Holguin said.
The program emphasizes that students need to make informed choices about alcohol. "Nothing is a substitute for the personal responsibility that students have to take for themselves and others," Kenney, the dean of students, said.
UC Berkeley officials are committed to taking whatever steps are necessary to make sure students have a safe environment.
"It's not just getting drunk," said Kenney. "It's what it leads to."
AlcoholEdu costs the campus about $36,000 a year.