Home Cooked Plan to Spot College Boozing and Improve College Learning

By Sam Rosensohn

The meeting of university and college presidents captured headlines primarily because of Walter Harrison, president of the University of Hartford, who told a riveting story about his guzzling days as a student at Trinity College.

The year was 1966. Harrison was a junior at a dance at Mather Hall. He’d been binge drinking and found himself standing on the edge.

“I think I had the same struggles that all college students have. My father had died two weeks before I went to college. Kids drink and get depressed and get suicidal. I don’t think I was that way normally, but I think having a lot to drink, I was,” he said, according to an account in the Hartford Courant.

Harrison told his colleagues that he has since had to pick up the phone to notify a family that their kid was found dead on campus from an alcohol and drug overdose.  Harrison has had to make that ghastly call to three different families.

You may have heard about this recent gathering which assembled in Hartford the week before last to discuss and support yet another initiative to deal with high-risk drinking and drug use on college campuses because it got a lot of media play.

Others at the conference told similar stories of students perishing. A 2002 study in the Journal of American College Health was brought up. It noted that despite a host of new anti-alcohol campaigns and initiatives, and a decline in fraternity and sorority interest, about 44 percent of college students between the ages of 18 and 23 are classified as binge drinkers.

Experts in the field say things are about the same, and so they met to support the latest effort, the Statewide Healthy Campus Initiative, aimed at reducing high-risk drinking and drug use among college students in Connecticut.

As things would have it, I happened to dial into an in-depth radio interview on the initiative a couple of days after the meeting. A young lady from the governor’s office was addressing different aspects of the program, and I couldn’t help but think that the arms of this well-intentioned state effort aren’t ample enough to do half the job.

A big piece of the solution rests with us, the parents. State efforts can’t care about our children like we do, and they can’t provide for them as we do.

So here comes my home cooked plan, hot out of the frying pan (not even half-baked), more cod liver oil than chicken soup, and it might well support what’s offered in lecture halls and seminars.

Deep breath here, since you’re going to advise your kid to do something that he or she will probably laugh at you for. Big deep breath, you can handle the initial dismissal that’s coming – we’ve all been there before. You’re going to tell your son or daughter that he or she will write to you right after midterms and then again right after finals. (Maybe frame them as letters home, told you it was half- baked.)

Here’s what my Zac is going to address after he completes the first round of midterms next fall for each course he takes. 1) What have you taken from this course that you are already employing in your day-to-day life, and how might it apply to whatever you might choose to do after graduation? 2) What has this course taught you about what you need and want to learn next? 3) A summary of the course. Here I want content. I want to know what he learned.

We will then, if he wants me to keep writing the checks for car repairs, room and board and the rest, spend a few hours reviewing what he just gained at college and what he might have missed.

Over the Christmas vacation I had several conversations with students who were attending some of the nation’s better universities. Some were freshmen, some were seniors. I always ask about the courses they most enjoyed.  “It’s really very interesting,” I’ll often hear, and then after a long, sometimes uncomfortable pause, “it’s not the easiest thing to summarize.” A big laugh, and the conversation shifts.

Now since it’s all starting to sound like yours truly has cracked into his fifth Bud of the afternoon, I’m going to do my best to tie it all together. If a kid is binge-drinking more than he’s studying he may be able to answer the written portion of the parent exam that you will issue, but he’ll be less likely to be able to talk in depth about the courses’ applications and what he’s incorporated into every day living.

And if a kid can’t hold that conversation it might well be a sign that he needs to spend more time with his books and less time with whatever else he’s doing, if he wants you to keep writing those crazy delicious tuition checks.

Sam Rosensohn is the founder of College Planning Partnerships, which offers prep classes for the SAT and helps students to prepare for college and write college essays. He can be reached in Clinton at 860-664-9857 or at sam@satprepct.com