U.S. Colleges and Universities Join Forces to Address High-Risk Drinking


Colleges and universities from across the country are joining forces to address high-risk drinking on American campuses. This unprecedented group initiative—the Learning Collaborative on High-Risk Drinking—will use comprehensive evaluation and measurement techniques to identify and implement the most effective ways to confront this persistent problem and lessen the harm it causes.

“Close to 40 percent of college students in the United States engage in binge drinking, and that number has remained virtually unchanged for decades,” said Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim, a leader in the effort. “By collaborating on this issue, comparing our experiences, and learning from each other’s best practices, we believe we are much more likely to make meaningful and lasting progress than if each school attempts to tackle this critical issue on its own.”

Fourteen institutions have joined the Collaborative to date. They are: Boston University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Duke University, Frostburg State University, Northwestern University, Ohio University, Princeton University, Purdue University, Sewanee: The University of the South, Stanford University, Stony Brook University, University of Wyoming, and Wesleyan University. The Collaborative will be accepting additional schools through May 20.

“Binge drinking is a serious public health challenge, leading to injury and in some cases, death, for hundreds of thousands of college students each year,” said U.S Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “HHS agencies have tackled this issue over the years, strengthening the evidence base and identifying interventions that work to reduce binge drinking. The Learning Collaborative on High-Risk Drinking is a promising initiative that will implement evidence-based practices at college campuses around the nation. We look forward to partnering with college leadership on this effort.”

The Learning Collaborative methodology was developed by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) in Cambridge, Mass., and is aimed at spreading and adapting knowledge to different settings in order to address a given problem or health concern. This model has already been used successfully hundreds of times in medicine and public health. Using this system, participants are able to implement changes quickly and determine which methods are most effective in their institutions. These experiences then inform the process and progress of the group as a whole.

A centerpiece of the methodology is its focus on measurement. Various measures will be developed to track the progress of the effort, in consultation with experts from across the country. Data will be shared and compared among participant institutions with the goal of both lowering the rate of binge drinking and reducing the incidence of the harm associated with this behavior.

Dedicated teams from each school in the Collaborative—composed of students, faculty, and administrators—will convene for the first of a series of face-to-face meetings every six months beginning in June. In between those meetings, teams will share outcomes and implementation methods to assess which programs work, where they work, and why, focusing principally on the evidence-based interventions developed in recent years that have been shown to be effective. There will be three Collaborative learning sessions, in June 2011, January 2012, and July 2012, after which the group expects to publish its findings.

“An issue as complex as binge drinking is ideal to take on through this collaborative process,” said Lloyd Provost, an IHI senior fellow and an expert advisor to the Collaborative. “The key to a successful collaborative is to effectively combine the subject matter experts’ knowledge with the local contextual knowledge of teams on college campuses.”

Close to 2,000 college students in the United States die each year from alcohol-related injuries, including motor vehicle accidents, and an estimated 600,000 students are injured while under the influence, according to research from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. In addition, research has consistently shown that binge drinking often leads to sexual abuse and unsafe sex as well as academic problems.

“High-risk drinking by college students is not an issue unique to any one college or university, and the harms associated with alcohol misuse could be viewed as a shared concern,” said Dr. Jason Kilmer, a research assistant professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences and assistant director of health and wellness at the University of Washington, who is also an expert advisor to the Collaborative. “This Learning Collaborative represents a tremendous opportunity to share the responsibility for identifying possible strategies to reduce these alcohol-related harms.”

Cornell University President David J. Skorton said, “Every college or university president knows the terrible dread of having a student die of an alcohol-related cause. And every president’s first thought when a tragedy occurs is that there must be something the college or university could do to prevent these deaths. We all have methods of prevention that work some of the time. By pooling our ideas we have a better chance of finding solutions that improve our success rates. I am glad Cornell will be part of this effort.”

The Learning Collaborative on High-Risk Drinking is the inaugural effort of the National College Health Improvement Project (NCHIP), a joint undertaking between Dartmouth College and The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice (TDI). NCHIP aims to bring population health improvement methods to bear on problems affecting student health and plans to organize future collaboratives on other health issues.

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