Alisa Lincoln, Carol Glod, Neal Fogg
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Department or Academic Unit
College of Social Sciences and Humanities, Law and Public Policy Program
public policy, public health, law, alcohol, college drinking, college students, FERPA, parents, underage
Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration | Social Welfare | Urban Studies
Underage drinking among college students is a serious societal problem. This study investigated the adoption and implementation of the 1998 Amendment to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, among four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. Historically colleges and universities have been unsuccessful in dealing with drinking among college students, leading to the enactment of 11/9 of PL 105-244, 112 STAT.1581(to be codified at 20U.S.C.}101h) as part of the Higher Education Amendment. The federal effort of parental notification for alcohol violations aims to engage parents as part of the solution, by allowing universities at their discretion and without student consent, to notify parents of a student under the age of 21, following the student's violation of any law, rule or institutional policy governing the use or possession of alcohol (U.S. Department of Education, Final Rule, 2000). Since the 1998 FERPA Amendment was enacted, there have been only a few studies that have examined parental notification.
The objective of this research was to elucidate the complex legal, policy, and contextual issues surrounding the adoption and implementation of formal written parental notification policies as a means of reducing underage drinking among college students in a nationally representative sample of four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. Using a cross-sectional observational study design at a single point in time, the research examined the prevalence of formal written parental notification policies, factors associated with adoption and implementation, and factors associated with administrators' perceived effectiveness of such policies in reducing alcohol violations and recidivism.
The study employed a nationwide survey of 338 administrators drawn from a randomly selected sample of accredited four-year colleges and universities. Responses were received from 271 institutions, which constituted a response rate of 80%. The results found that an estimated 56% of four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. have a formal written parental notification policy for notifying parents of underage students' alcohol violations. Additionally, an estimated 34% have no formal written notification policy but have a practice of notifying parents of underage students' alcohol violations informally, and 10% of colleges and universities never notify parents. Formal, written parental notification policies were more prevalent among schools that had a religious affiliation and were primarily residential and less prevalent among schools that had fraternities or sororities. The literature suggests that these school characteristics most likely shape campus norms regarding student life such as moral values, alumni relations, and other contextual factors that play a role in colleges and universities' decisions regarding adoption of a formal parental notification policy.
Kingdon's Multiple Streams Model provided the theoretical framework for this study. This model was used to conceptualize and examine the factors associated with (1) agenda setting, (e.g., recognition of underage alcohol use as a serious problem), (2) policy formulation (e.g., priorities in establishing alcohol policies), (3) policy implementation (e.g., policy attributes and enforcement), and (4) policy evaluation (e.g., perceived success of parental notification in reducing alcohol violations and recidivism).
Most administrators cited student safety, student retention/academic performance, and school liability as priorities that shape the school's alcohol policy; however, only the priority given to parents' right to know distinguished between schools with and without a formal parental notification policy. Among schools with such a policy, "broad concerns about underage college student drinking" was the most commonly endorsed reason for adopting the policy.
Having a high level of policy enforcement and perceived success in making students and parents aware of the policy were associated with a reduction in alcohol violations, as perceived by survey respondents. Schools that reported high enforcement rates were four times more likely to perceive a reduction in alcohol violations, and more than twice as likely to perceive a reduction in recidivism. Among schools with a written parental notification policy, those that reported making students aware of the policy were five times more likely than other schools to believe that the policy resulted in moderate to substantial reduction in alcohol violations. The study suggests that while the presence of a formal parental notification policy was not statistically associated with administrators' on reducing alcohol violations, a formal written policy may have an indirect association via an increase in enforcement and awareness. Schools that notified parents upon first offense, at the time of the incident, and in writing, and schools that had greater support from parents, students, and student affairs staff, were more likely to perceive parental notification policies to be effective in reducing both alcohol violations and recidivism.
In summary, based on the findings of this study, having a formal written parental notification policy may be an important part of a comprehensive approach to help reduce underage college drinking. The study findings provide strong support that (1) there has been an increase in the adoption of formal parental notification policies, yet, adoption is not universal; (2) schools with formal written parental notification policies perceived parental notification to be more effective in reduction of recidivism (second offenses) than schools with an informal practice; and (3) a formal written parental notification policy may help to reduce underage drinking among college students because the study found that the policy was associated with greater enforcement ( i.e., having parental notification carried out in a high percentage of cases). This enforcement in turn, was associated with greater perceived effectiveness in reducing alcohol violations. The study findings suggest that steps such as efforts to increase student and parent awareness of parental notification policies, securing strong support for the policy from student affairs staff, and consistent and timely enforcement of parental notification policies may be effective in reducing alcohol violations, recidivism, and therefore, underage college drinking.
Limitations included the study's focus on the perceived effectiveness of parental notification, rather than objective measures of effectiveness, and a cross-sectional design that could not capture dynamic process relating to the decision-making and implementation of alcohol policies or the possible causal relationship between parental notification policies and underage college drinking.
Future research is needed (1) on the implementation of the 1998 FERPA Amendment, in particular using objective measures to assess the relationship between formal written parental notification policies and subsequent changes in the prevalence of underage college drinking and (2) to explore why and how institutional characteristics such as residential character, religious affiliation, and fraternities/sororities shape perceptions of underage college drinking problems and influence policy formulation. The current study provides colleges and universities with new information that may assist them in embracing the adoption of a formal written parental notification policy and approaches to support the effective implementation of parental notification policies, as part of a comprehensive strategy to reduce underage drinking among college student.
Letzeiser, Christine, "Legal, policy, and contextual issues surrounding parental notification of underage drinking among college students" (2012). Law and Public Policy Dissertations. Paper 7. http://hdl.handle.net/2047/d20002714
Available for download on Friday, November 21, 2014
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