Western Pennsylvania Colleges, Universities Turn to Parents to Curb Student Drinking

Article excerpt

If underage students at some local colleges and universities don't tell their parents they've been caught drinking, mom and dad will find out from school officials anyway.

It's not tattling, university officials say, but a way to get parents involved in hopes they can steer their children in the right direction.

A growing number of schools -- among them Indiana University of Pennsylvania, the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State University, California University of Pennsylvania, Seton Hill University and St. Vincent College -- notify parents when students younger than 21 are caught drinking, intoxicated or in possession of alcohol.

Colleges and universities have been allowed to contact parents when students younger than 21 were caught drinking or using drugs since 1998, when the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act was amended. The law prevents universities from sharing most student information, but drug and alcohol use is considered a health and safety risk.

While most notifications occur by letter, Seton Hill officials call parents after giving students a chance to notify them. Dean of Students Charmaine Strong said parents are asked what they know about the incident, then filled in on details the child might not have shared.

"The students might have told them it was no big deal," she said. "Maybe the real story is that paramedics were called or something."

Strong said notifying parents isn't about punishment. Rather, she said, it's about making sure students have good resources and support.

"Parents have a lot of influence, so we felt that they could help us," Strong said. "If a student is underage, certainly that's against the law, but the irresponsible drinking is the major concern because you can lose your life. …