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Colleges Calling Home More Often

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Colleges Calling Home More Often

Colleges Calling Home More Often

Colleges Calling Home More Often

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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In an effort to help troubled students and prevent major incidents like the shootings at Virginia Tech, more schools are intervening earlier when signs of trouble arise. A the Wall Street Journal reports, that intervention means getting parents involved.


Well, Rachel, as you remember not so long ago - college.


I loved college.

BURBANK: The time when many young people get their first real taste of independence and frenzy a boxed wine, you know, no more curfews - in my case, no more Bible studies - awesome. And maybe the most liberating - no more parents constantly monitoring your every move - well, sort of. As it turns out, more and more schools are taking the initiative to alert parents when their kids get busted for drinking or drug use. And for a long time, colleges and universities were pretty protective of students' privacy, keeping parents out of the loop on these sorts of things, but episodes like the Virginia Tech shootings…


BURBANK: …and events where kids have died after getting super wasted has kind of changed things. This trend was chronicled yesterday in a Wall Street Journal article entitled "Colleges Move Boldly On Student Drinking." We found it so interesting that we've invited the author on for a little thing we call Ripped Off…

(Soundbite of music)

BURBANK: …From the Headlines.

Elizabeth Bernstein is a reporter with The Wall Street Journal. Hi, Elizabeth.

Ms. ELIZABETH BERNSTEIN (Staff Reporter, The Wall Street Journal): Hi. How are you?

BURBANK: Great. This is a real interesting series that you've been doing kind of on student privacy, and this recent article focused on sort of drinking. Why have colleges been reluctant in the past to contact parents?

Ms. BERNSTEIN: You know, and that's an interesting question. I think colleges are reluctant - they seem to worry that they're going to get sued by the kids who are going to say, look, you breached my privacy which seems odd because who's paying - who would be paying those legal bills? The parents. But, also colleges say that they want to foster independence in students, and they're not - and they're concerned that calling home at the first sign of every trouble doesn't really do that.

BURBANK: Well, okay, building off of that, how is it actually legal for the school? They're kids over 18, and they're an adult, how is it okay legally for the school to call their parents and tell them about the various things that may have gone down?

Ms. BERNSTEIN: Well, there's a big federal privacy law that protects college students' educational records…

BURBANK: And would that be…

Ms. BERNSTEIN: …it's called….

BURBANK: …called Ferpa?

Ms. BERNSTEIN: Yeah, it is called Ferpa; it's Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. It means that the students own their own privacy of their educational record, but it has several very powerful exceptions and one of them - one of the most clear-cut ones is this one on booze. And it says if the student is under 21 and has a violation for alcohol or drugs, that the school can call home.

BURBANK: I thought one of the most interesting ones I saw was - I'm thinking it was the University of Wisconsin - I'm doing this off of memory though - that has a paper that parents can sign because they're one of these schools or the school that I'm thinking of is one of the schools that's now alerting parents through this amendment to Ferpa. But you can also sign something as a parent that says I don't want to know if my kid gets busted for drinking and drugs which seems to be the parental version of going la, la, la, la, la, la, la for four years. Parents have actually signed that though, right?

Ms. BERNSTEIN: I think something - I'm not sure if it's the University of Wisconsin. I'm not remembering off the top of my head either, but it is - it seems odd that they've had about 40 parents sign since they instituted that policy or maybe since this year, saying, you know, I don't want to know. And what parents are saying is the same thing: I - we think our kids need to learn to live with the consequences.

BURBANK: So this sounds like it's very much a kind of a move by the colleges to sort of insulate themselves against lawsuits. And they have just decided that the risk of a lawsuit after a Virginia Tech type of shooting or somebody getting drunk and falling out of a dorm window, that risk now exceeds the risk of getting sued over privacy.

Ms. BERNSTEIN: I think they think that. And also, I think there is a genuine concern about alcohol binge drinking incidents are way up. And alcohol actually plays a big part in all sorts of horrible things that happen on campuses - from date rape, assault, suicide, you know, falling out of balconies and dying - so they are trying to really minimize the risk to these kids. I think there is a genuine concern there, too, but liability is a huge issue.

BURBANK: Is there any way to measure what the impact has been? I mean, does drinking go down at these schools or, you know, these things they're trying to avoid, are they avoided?

Ms. BERNSTEIN: These schools - some schools have had these policies in place for a few years, they say it's still too early to count, you know, see what's happening, but they do feel that they're seeing repeat incidents go down. They think they're seeing a positive impact, and, certainly, it's such a big problem that they're happy to be doing anything.

BURBANK: Is this just another way, though, that we're sort of delaying adulthood for people now? I mean, come on, like, who didn't do a few kegs dance in college in their freshman year?


BURBANK: You didn't, Rachel?


BURBANK: All right, who besides Rachel didn't do a few kegs dance?

Ms. BERNSTEIN: And, you know, that's…

MARTIN: The lake.

Ms. BERNSTEIN: But, you know, that's really interesting because my mailbox yesterday was pretty full of people writing about this article. And I heard from kids saying, come on, my boomer parents, you know, do you know what they did when they were on campus? That's the generation that, you know?


BURBANK: And did you see the "Cheech and Chong" movies?

Ms. BERNSTEIN: Yeah, like,how dare they tell us that we're irresponsible; we need to have you call home? They were - there were kids who were really mad.

BURBANK: Yeah, well, Elizabeth, again, a very interesting article. We'll link to it on our blog.

Thanks for coming on. Elizabeth Bernstein, Wall Street Journal reporter.

Ms. BERNSTEIN: Thanks so much.

BURBANK: Thank you again.

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