AS A NEW academic year begins, an old campus problem -- student drinking -- still challenges college officials. They have yet to come up with sure-fire ways to eliminate alcohol abuse on campuses. It is even unclear how much help the drinking-age laws are: With certain exceptions, anyone under 21 is barred from purchasing or consuming alcoholic beverages, even though 18- to 21-year-olds are considered adults in other ways. The drinking-age laws dictate that colleges do what they can to forbid drinking by undergraduates. This should begin with alcohol-free dorms and campus buildings.
Incidents of students dying as a result of alcohol abuse have put new pressures on colleges, especially state institutions. Some officials report that since the drinking age was raised in their areas, their campus drinking problems have increased: Illegal drinkers gather off-campus for binges.
Vigorous enforcement ought to be a matter of course. But many college administrations believe that students must be educated to take a more mature approach -- to recognize that behavior tolerated in the past is no longer acceptable. Some institutions are notifying parents of underage-drinking incidents and expelling repeat offenders.
Colleges also are working with students on alternatives to drinking. Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley, who heads a statewide task force to curb alcohol abuse on campuses, notes that though a relatively small number of students are binge-drinkers, they may generate the feeling among other students that drinking is the thing to do. College officials laud student-run campaigns to characterize excessive drinking as "gross" rather than "cool" and to promote designated-driver programs. Mr. Earley reminds student groups that "it's really a minority of students who engage in binge drinking and alcohol abuse," and that the rest of them should come to recognize that "they don't need to be part of that minority."