Higher Education Insurance and Alcohol Issues

One of the most difficult challenges college presidents’ nationwide face is dealing with students who misuse alcohol. Many see excessive drinking as the number one campus problem. They know that this issue harms those students who drink to excess, negatively affects students who do not drink or drink responsibly, and damages the larger institution. College and university administrators are interested in reducing excessive drinking on campus and are seeking ways to deal with this ever-increasing situation.


The dangers are many, and these schools face the possibility of a lawsuit should anyone, including those students guilty of abusing alcohol, should become injured or seriously hurt. Higher Education Insurance is a means of dealing with the fallout should litigation arise from actions resulting in injuries or fatalities as a result of alcohol abuse. Federal, state, and local laws help define college administrators’ responsibilities for taking action when students misuse alcohol. The Federal Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act and its 1989 amendments require institutions receiving any federal funds to implement an alcohol and drug education program.


Measures that are currently in place


Many schools have set up guidelines to deal with the issue of drugs and alcohol use on their campuses, which includes the following:


  • Defining a policy that prohibits the unlawful possession, use, and distribution of alcohol and other drugs


  • Sharing information about alcohol and drug treatment programs available to students and employees


  • Adopting disciplinary sanctions for students and employees who violate the school’s policy on alcohol and drugs, and


  • Ensuring that the disciplinary sanctions are consistently enforced


Schools are now permitted to disclose to parents any violations of local, state, and Federal laws and school policies and rules related to alcohol under the amendments to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Massachusetts now requires, and Virginia now recommends that public institutions in those states do so.


Issues related to policy development


Because institutions are so diverse, no single policy on alcohol is appropriate for the 3,000-plus U.S. institutions of higher learning. An institution’s history, demographics, philosophy, and mission should guide the policy development process.


While most schools would rather not impose a complete ban on the presence of all alcohol among undergraduate students, the greatest danger and risk of liability could stem from such situations in which the school is involved in selling alcoholic beverages or acting as a social host. Higher Education Insurance can help meet the needs of these organizations, but a school must also be aware of the legal aspects of any policy it institutes.