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.”

Best practices
U-Choose is among the programs that are getting widespread praise for its approach and results. By teaching students about alcohol, their limits and the health effects, university leaders aim to equip students with the knowledge to make healthier decisions. “Students weren’t even aware how much alcohol they were consuming and how it was affecting their health,” Overland said.

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.

Expanding its reach
The Department of Education grant, received in July, will allow St. Cloud State to expand its efforts to promote healthier behavior and focus on four key initiatives over the next two years. “We feel as though we have turned things around on campus so the next step is to turn our focus off campus,” Reff 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.


  • U-Choose: Interactive education program designed to teach students how their body handles alcohol and the effects alcohol could have on their health, academic performance, mood and relationships.
  • House Party 101: 100 students volunteered to role-play party situations and help students experientially learn how to keep safe and make smart decisions about alcohol. Officers from the St. Cloud Police Department had students wear “drunk goggles” and participate in mock sobriety tests (e.g., walk the line).
  • Atwood After Dark: Developed to keep students on campus on Friday nights and provide a fun, alcohol-free activity.
    Blizzardshack Block Party: Over 1,000 students attended the event in which students participated in fun activities and had the opportunity to play mini golf with each hole infused with prevention messages and activities.
  • Police Involvement: Police officers talk with more than 1,000 students last year offering popular Q&A sessions to residence hall students.


  • New Student Code of Conduct: Includes expectations for student behavior with alcohol and prompts the university to intervene when behavior – on or off campus – does not follow those expectations.
  • IMPACT: Intervention program for adjudicated students who broke code of conduct with alcohol. Data shows that within 90 days of completing the program, students lower their peak blood alcohol by 40 percent.

Community Outreach

  • Husky Neighbors: A group of students who live in nearby neighborhoods and receive stipends for serving as liaisons between their neighborhoods and the university. To be initiated in January 2010.
  • Coalition: This broad group of local stakeholders will evaluate alcohol and drug use in the community and identify ways to foster a healthier, safer community.

Campus Resources

  • Two years ago, St. Cloud State was investing 40-hours a week in alcohol education. Today, with the Department of Education grant resources and with creating a full-time alcohol education a nd outreach position, more than 100 hours are invested in alcohol education weekly.

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