US Department of Education Grants $300,000
Monday, January 25, 2010
Colleges across the country are looking for ways to manage and reduce high-risk drinking, both on campus and in the community, and they’re starting to look to St. Cloud State University as a model.
St. Cloud State is taking steps to provide an answer to what the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services calls a leading public health issue. The department reports that each year about 5,000 young people under the age of 21 die as a result of underage drinking.
“Our goal is to help students succeed and graduate,” said Wanda Overland, vice president of student life and development. “If we’re looking at the whole student, it’s not just about grade point average, but what affects it.”
St. Cloud State is at the cusp of using comprehensive alcohol education initiatives and campus activities like U-Choose, a voluntary alcohol education program that boasts more than 4,300 student participants.
Atwood After Dark and Blizzard Shack are among some of the activities aimed at changing a culture that says “every college student drinks” by giving students healthier alternatives. Efforts to change these perceptions focus on intervention, prevention and community outreach and are driven by strong institutional support from President Earl H. Potter III and other key leaders.
“People are interested in St. Cloud State because the things we’re doing are innovative,” Overland said, “and even the things that aren’t innovative are best practices and the data is showing that it is making a difference.”
The results have earned St. Cloud State invitations to speak on best practices at local, regional and national conferences and a $300,000 federal grant from the U.S. Department of Education to expand the efforts in the community. “Our whole philosophy is not to say that people shouldn’t drink or use alcohol,” Overland said. “It’s that people need to make healthy choices.”
Since the inception of U-Choose in 2007, St. Cloud State rates of high-risk drinking have fallen while they have increased nationwide. “U-Choose is fun, interactive and engaging, and incorporates what we knew would be best for students,” said Rob Reff, interim assistant dean of students for chemical health and outreach programming.
More than 4,300 students have completed U-Choose in the past three years. “There is a 90 percent positive response rate and (students) tell their friends about it,” Reff said.
St. Cloud State’s success in reducing high-risk drinking and harmful alcohol-related activities among students lies in its unique campus-community relationship. Patrick Mastey ’99, a local landlord, is among the university’s essential partners. Mastey, who operates off-campus housing for students, collaborated with the university to expand the U-Choose program to off-campus residents. He has strongly encouraged students who lease his properties to participate the U-Choose program and provided financial incentives for those who complete it.
“The drive for me is to doing something bigger for Central Minnesota and St. Cloud,” said Mastey, owner and manager of Aspen Housing in St. Cloud. “Hopefully, we’re going to change the behavior and people’s lives at a time that’s necessary.”
More than 200 students who live in his rental properties near campus have willingly completed the program. The result, Mastey says, is better buy-in from parents and a sense of community ownership among students. “We’re making students more aware that they are a part of this community and not just going through this community,” he said.
The $300,000 in funding will allow the university to bring U-Choose to St. Cloud Technical College, expand its partnerships with local property managers, create a robust team of off-campus student liaisons through a Husky Neighbors program and create a broad-based community coalition.
The coalition will identify how everyone from K-12 educators and city leaders to law enforcement and bar owners can work together to create a healthier, safer community.
“We’re constantly trying to be innovative, think outside the box and try different things,” Reff said.