Legally Drinking Before College? Maybe…

Posted by Chris Potts | Posted in Ethics, Higher Education, Thoughts | Posted on 08-20-2008


So many of you may be aware that in the past several weeks there has been an age-old nationwide debate re-surfacing regarding lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18. This time, however, colleges and universities are squarely in the middle of the debate as there is a petition circulating among collegiate presidents, urging federal and state lawmakers to consider lowering the drinking age.

I was surprised to read the other day in the Indianapolis Star a summary article about this, where Butler’s president Dr. Bobby Fong came out in strong support of this measure and has signed the petition – much to the chagrin of Mother’s Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and some other organizations (see: for the full story).

I don’t know enough of the facts and haven’t thought about this enough yet to form my own rational opinion. But my question is: should colleges & universities be on the leading edge of this national debate, and if so – how (if at all) will it affect what we do as recruiters?

Clearly there are numerous implications should the drinking age actually change from 21 to 18, arguably the most noticeable differences being seen on college campuses; I suspect that is why many college presidents are weighing in. But I wonder if any college or university who publicly supports (or voices opposition against) this proposal will suffer the consequences in public image? If this is true then CLEARLY this will impact recruitment efforts.

Our Director of Admission has recently warned us that we may get calls and/or e-mails about this Indianapolis Star article, and so we are attempting to get a formal statement from our Marketing and PR folks about how to handle such contacts. I am curious to see how this all develops over the next couple of weeks and months – and welcome any comments from you, the readers of this blog.

Comments posted (7)

I think that the push behind this with collegiate presidents is that they might be thinking that if the drinking age is lower, the problem with binge drinking in college might be abated a little.

Just got my Google Alert for the Day. Unreal.

You ask a good question with “should colleges & universities be on the leading edge of this national debate?” We in higher ed are focused on only a part (less than half?) of the US 18-20 year-old population.

Are 18-year-olds allowed to drink on their military bases? No champagne for the 20-year old bride and groom?

My own personal bottom line on this is that the law is inconsistent with every other one regarding this age-group. I don’t buy the “it saves lives” argument. Not allowing military service until 21 would save lives, too. So would raising the driving age.

As a follow-up, among the many other press items being released on this, MADD has just recently issued a press release (see: listing every college and university who has signed this petition. Further, they encourage individuals to in a sense “boycott” these institutions and let them know of their unhappiness. It is getting REALLY interesting…

MADD is mad. Lowering the drinking age may actually decrease drunk driving.

But as far as I’m concerned, if you’re old enough to get your legs blown off in Iraq, you’re old enough to buy a bottle of vodka.

I wonder how many schools on the MADD list currently ban alcohol in the residence halls vs. the “damp” approach. (There is a distinction between the two actions, of course.)

And perhaps this will *help* with recruiting at some of the colleges listed. I remember a comic showing a college president chatting with a dean of admissions, with the caption something along these lines:

“It looks like we might come up short on enrollment this fall. Time to start leaking stories about wild parties on campus…”

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