Colleges these days work closely with parents on students' financial aid applications or living accommodations. But, when it comes time to inform parents about their son or daughter's underage drinking violation, colleges are divided about how much mom and dad should know.
Most college students are legal adults when they arrive on campus - adults with the freedom to manage personal issues. Yet, colleges partnering with parents can bolster efforts to reduce risky drinking at a time when college-age, drinking-related tragedies continue in the region, local college officials said.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act protects the privacy of student information such as test scores and grade-point averages, but, for more than a decade, campuses have had the legal authority to contact a parent or guardian of students under the age of 21 about alcohol and drug-related matters.
The Washington Post reports a growing number of colleges are notifying parents every time a student younger than 21 is caught drinking, drunk or in possession of alcohol. Local colleges don't have any blanket policies like this, but some say they are involving parents more in recent years when alcohol violations arise.
College officials say they evaluate whether to contact parents on a case-by-case basis. Typically, colleges involve parents when a student could harm themselves or others, or the student has a pattern of drinking offenses.
"Sometimes people are not willing to learn from the situations and they need another kind of intervention ... support beyond that which we can give them," said Connie Gores, Winona State University's vice president of student life and development.
WSU didn't start contacting parents - even if their son or daughter was being transported to the hospital for drinking - until fall of 2007, Gores said. Parents used to call in, shocked that a student had been hospitalized or ticketed and no one told them, she said. WSU student Jenna Marie Foellmi's death from an alcohol overdose in December 2007 was one of the reasons the university became more vigilant in their response to alcohol use, including parent involvement, Gores said.
The millennial generation is much more connected with parents than previous generations, and parents' expectations and values can influence their behavior, said Paula Knudson, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse dean of students.
"Eighteen-year-olds pooh-pooh parents, but they are still listening," she said.
Students might think twice before risky drinking, knowing their parents could be contacted, said Ge Vang, Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse specialist at Western Technical College.
Western will implement its first parent-notification policy for underage drinkers this fall. In previous years, the college wouldn't contact parents. Now, for the second offense, they likely will, Vang said. More parental involvement was also triggered, in part, because of local college-age deaths, he said.
Western student Ike Rebout, 30, said a parent-notification policy would have been a good deterrent to partying and drinking in his younger years.
"Sometimes too many students fall into the trap of too much freedom - this (policy) could be a wake up call," he said.
UW-L student Justin Fons, 21, said the university did not contact his parents when he received a citation for underage drinking his freshman year. He thought the university made the right choice. Parents should not be notified in such minor cases like his, he said.
"Students are here to become independent adults," he said, "and part of that is learning to deal with the consequences on your own and take responsibility."