Friday, November 21, 2008

Task force could help stem underage college drinking

Colleges and universities should take lead on setting and enforcing rules on their campuses.

Stopping underage drinking on college campuses should be a top concern of parents and academia. In recent years, there have been tragic alcohol-related deaths, and something should be done to address this issue.

Yet, we agree with state Sen. Shirley Turner, D-Mercer, the solution is unlikely to be found in legislation that imposes a uniform fix for the state's many campuses. As Turner said, the universities and colleges should be allowed to set and enforce their own rules. If the problem spills off campus, there already are laws to handle underage drinkers.

Some academic leaders have proposed lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18, when people are considered adult in other areas of society, such as the health-care, criminal justice and military systems. The Amethyst Initiative, a group of 134 college presidents and chancellors, favor making it legal for their 18- to 20-year-old students to drink. Most now do so illegally and colleges have proved inadequate to stop this behavior.

Under federal law, states can set the legal drinking age for their residents, but would lose 10 percent of their federal highway funds. The federal penalty recognizes that young people too often are involved in drinking-and-driving accidents.

On the other hand, many European countries have a much lower drinking age than the United States but balance that with much tougher drunken driving laws. Generally, there are not higher rates of alcohol-related incidents among European youths than here.

It is an issue worthy of more study, as Turner has proposed. She and Senate President Dick Codey, D-Essex, support creating a task force to look into the issue. But lowering the drinking age probably won't be acceptable to many New Jerseyans, especially those who have lost a loved one in an alcohol-related incident. But that doesn't mean the whole issue should not be reviewed. Students, parents, educators and lawmakers need to have this conversation to figure out how to get students and others to act more responsibly.
source: Courier Post Online

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