Many institutions have adopted parental notification policies to address high-risk drinking and reduce incidents of alcohol policy violations on campus. Though this strategy has not been heavily researched, it has been linked to reductions in alcohol-related offenses and rates of recidivism at several colleges and universities. Like many environmental strategies, parental notification should be implemented as part of a comprehensive approach to prevention.
What is parental notification?
A parental notification policy allows parents of students under the age of 21 to be notified by campus administrators of their child’s alcohol or drug-related policy violation. It was not until 1998 that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) was revised to specify that colleges are allowed (though not required) to notify parents of underage students who violate campus AOD policies.
Parental notification policies vary across campuses with regard to notification processes and conditions. Institutions may notify parents by phone or letter. Some campuses may notify parents after a first offense, while others may notify only after a second violation. In addition, some campuses may only notify parents for policy violations whereas others may also notify parents when a student has experienced an alcohol-related medical emergency.
Having some sort of parental notification policy or practice has gained popularity since the 1998 revision of FERPA. A 2000 survey distributed to 189 institutions with members of the Association of Student Judicial Affairs revealed that 84% of institutions either had a parental policy or practice in place or were actively considering implementing one (Palmer et al., 2001). In this study, the majority of the parents notified (72%) expressed a high level of support for the policy.
Although there have not been many formal evaluations of parental notification policies, many campuses have monitored judicial and medical reports in order to assess whether the policy has had an impact on alcohol-related behaviors. For example, Texas A&M University examined their campus AOD policy violations and found that after adopting a parental notification policy, annual violations were cut nearly in half (“Texas A&M University,” 2003). Similarly, at Ohio University in Athens, one year after adopting the policy, the number of alcohol- or drug-related cases fell 36% and the number of repeat cases was cut nearly in half (Elliot, 2000).
Many campuses adopt a parental notification policy in conjunction with other prevention efforts in order to maximize behavioral outcomes. In a 2001 issue of the Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention’s Prevention Updates, the authors discuss several campuses that have noted reduced rates of recidivism or repeated offenses after implementing a parental notification policy, such as the University of Delaware, Texas A & M University, Radford University, Utah State, Ohio University in Athens, and Pennsylvania State University. The authors also note that many of these institutions implemented parental notification within a comprehensive approach to prevention, and have found additional positive outcomes such as fewer suspensions, less vandalism, higher retention rates, fewer hospitalizations and increased interest in living in residence halls in upper classmen (Zweig & Thompson, 2001). As with any alcohol policy, it is essential that a campus have consistent enforcement in place in order for a parental notification to have the greatest impact.
Issues and considerations
When adopting a parental notification policy, multiple campus constituents should be involved in the development of the policy. Once the policy has been set, it must be communicated thoroughly to faculty, staff, administrators, students and parents.
One of the greatest costs associated with parental notification is staff time. Administrators must track and send out notices, as well as answer any calls from parents regarding a notification. Such phone calls can be time-consuming. For example, during Penn State’s first year of policy-implementation, 30% of notified parents called, with the average call lasting 20 minutes (Zweig & Thompson, 2001).
Although the extent of required staff time can appear costly, it is important to note that reductions in alcohol-related violations, such as vandalism, may actually save an institution dollars. Furthermore, a parental notification policy may contribute to reduced attrition rates or suspensions, which may present further cost-savings for institutions.
Finally, it is essential that campuses evaluate their parental notification policies. An institution can assess the policy’s impact through a number of data collection mechanisms, such as judicial reports of alcohol policy violations, ER transports, reports of vandalism or alcohol-related violence, and instances of repeat offenses committed by former policy violators.
Elliot, P. (2000). Parental Notification Study Released. The Post.
Palmer, C.J., Lohman, G., Gehring, D.D., Carlson, S., and Garrett, O. (Spring 2001). Parental Notification: A New Strategy to Reduce Alcohol Abuse on campus. NASPA Journal, 38 (3).
Zweig, K.L. & Thompson, J. (June, 2001). Parental Notification. Prevention Updates, The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention.