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How To Reduce High-Risk College Drinking: Use Proven Strategies, Fill Research Gaps

Managing Program Implementation Effectively

Organizational factors, setting-specific issues, and the need to track program progress and evaluate results pose genuine challenges for campus-based programs. Addressing each, however, is essential to develop and sustain efforts that are relevant and effective.

Summary of Relevant Research

Sound program implementation is as important to success as using effective interventions. Although there is little research on approaches to college drinking program implementation, the organizational change literature provides a valid framework for addressing implementation issues (Mara, 2000). This construct highlights factors within the organizational environment that can either support or hinder college alcohol problem prevention or other change efforts, including leadership, strategy, structure, shared values, staff and skills, (management) style, and systems. Business and management research shows that comprehensively addressing all relevant factors and aligning them strategically to support a change is important to success (Carr et al., 1996). This emphasis on strategic change requires a careful, inclusive planning process and data collection and evaluation to monitor and improve programs and policies.

Organizational Factors

A review commissioned by the Panel describes the recent experiences of college and university presidents in responding to organizational change and other implementation issues (Mara, 2000). It also includes insights from experts in organizational change. All agree that involving students in program development and implementation is important for success. Other key potential partners are college and university faculty members, who are in a unique position to identify and help students with alcohol-related problems. Although faculty members have not typically been much involved in prevention, The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention suggests eight ways that they could participate (Higher Education Center, 1998), including:

  1. Helping initiate and support the development of multifaceted prevention programs,
  2. Using alcohol-related campus incidents as teachable moments,
  3. Speaking out and fostering debate on alcohol-related issues,
  4. Incorporating alcohol issues into courses,
  5. Developing specific courses or projects on alcohol issues,
  6. Teaching related interpersonal and intrapersonal skills,
  7. Monitoring how they personally discuss alcohol issues and the examples they set socially, and
  8. Working on campus and joint campus-community coalitions.

Setting-Specific Issues

In addition to addressing organizational factors, program implementation also involves attending to the setting-specific issues that are unique to each college or university and working with diverse on- and off-campus constituencies. Some institutions may collaborate with their communities in developing and implementing programs. In Ohio, for example, campuses have been involved in a statewide initiative launched by Ohio Parents for Drug Free Youth. This effort developed a prevention infrastructure built around campus-community coalitions, increased the range of prevention activities on campus, and focused attention on comprehensive environmental approaches (Deucher et al., in press).


Evaluation is another critical aspect of program implementation (Saltz and DeJong, 2002), with benefits that include:

  • Increasing the likelihood of program effectiveness,
  • Enabling program improvement,
  • Encouraging a strategic approach rather than ad hoc activities,
  • Focusing the program on defined endpoints and objectives,
  • Optimizing the use of college or university resources,
  • Enhancing program credibility, and
  • Contributing to the overall knowledge base about what works in reducing high-risk drinking among college students.

Despite evaluation’s value, researchers who reviewed college alcohol interventions implemented during the previous two decades identified only a handful of programs with any appreciable evaluation (Hingson et al., 1998). Nonetheless, college and university administrators, State boards, and legislatures governing multiple campuses are in a particularly strong position to encourage the development of evaluation activities on their campuses (Saltz and DeJong, 2002) by:

  • Insisting that prevention planning be guided by clearly articulated goals, objectives, and activities, all informed by research;
  • Providing resources and incentives for systematically collecting data and conducting evaluation; and
  • Fostering a supportive atmosphere where evaluation is used as a learning tool, not as a weapon to threaten programs or positions.

The paper on planning and evaluation commissioned by the Task Force provides step-by-step guidance for the integrated processes of program and evaluation planning (Saltz and DeJong, 2002). The authors provide examples that illustrate how both programs and evaluations are strengthened when programs are based on explicit theoretical frameworks with logic models that relate their strategies to measurable objectives.

Panel Recommendations: What Colleges and Universities Can Do Now

The Panel recommends that colleges and universities:

  • Be critical consumers of alcohol prevention strategies. Use programs with demonstrated effectiveness, such as those recommended in this report.
  • Take a strategic, outcome-driven approach to planning that reflects the campus situation and recognizes the need for the alignment of alcohol programs and policies with other aspects of institutional policy. Evaluate policies and programs and share the results with other colleges and universities.
  • Recognize that college student drinking prevention programs require a long-term (10- to 15-year) commitment. Set realistic objectives for change that are based on institutional assessment and national experience.
  • Establish a system for collecting data regularly on alcohol consumption and related problems. Report information objectively on campus and in the community, and update progress regularly.
  • Adopt and integrate complementary approaches, rather than focusing only on one. For example, when combined, social norms and policy enforcement efforts can enhance each other.
  • Involve students in developing and implementing activities to reduce high-risk drinking.
  • Involve a broad base of campus and community groups in prevention efforts, and reward students and others for supporting these programs.
  • Use social marketing approaches to create and market programs to students.
  • Encourage presidents, administrators, and other campus leaders to communicate the message that reducing harmful alcohol use is an institutional priority.
  • Have alcohol prevention interventions in place before freshmen arrive in the fall and sponsor related activities frequently during the first weeks of the academic year. Train those who conduct prospective student tours and interviews to explain the institution’s alcohol policies and desired norms.
  • Help move the field forward. Be willing to participate in alcohol-related research programs, for example, or to become a State or national policy advocate on college drinking issues.

Panel Recommendations: What Researchers Can Do To Fill Gaps in Knowledge

The Panel recommends that researchers address the following questions to fill key gaps in knowledge:

  • What planning structure or process is most effective in developing campus alcohol policies and programs?
  • What is the relative effectiveness of different accountability structures for managing college alcohol programs?
  • What are the costs and effects of alcohol prevention interventions including campus-based and comprehensive campus-community efforts? How can programs be made more cost-effective?
  • Which alcohol policies and programs most benefit the college and university in terms of student recruitment, student quality and academic performance, student diversity, student retention, faculty behaviors, fundraising, and alumni relations?
  • What are the most effective strategies for involving presidents, administrators, faculty, students, other staff, and boards of directors in alcohol prevention programs?
  • Is it effective to make prospective students aware of alcohol policies during the marketing or admissions process?
  • What are the most effective ways of engaging, optimizing, and maintaining the involvement of different student subgroups, including ethnic and racial minorities?
  • How can higher education and secondary education work together on alcohol issues, including the transition from high school to college?


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Historical document
Last reviewed: 9/23/2005

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