College campuses may seem inseparable from the culture of partying and drinking; however, in recent years, some universities have attempted to sever the college-alcohol equation by instituting zero-tolerance policies for alcohol on campus.
While colleges may have varying penalties and policies regulating the presence of alcohol on campus, the term “dry campus” refers to a campus where the consumption of alcohol on school property is wholly prohibited, regardless of whether individuals are of legal drinking age. This is contrasted with wet campuses, which permit consuming alcohol and are subject to individual campus rules on alcohol use.
We wanted to see what the data said, if anything, about how universities’ drug and alcohol policies affected their crime rates. To do this, we used the Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE) Campus Safety and Security crime data, narrowing our focus to nonprofit four-year colleges with at least 10,000 enrolled students. Of the colleges included in our sample, just over 73 percent were wet campuses, while roughly 27 percent were dry.
A few caveats: The following statistics only indicate which schools reported disciplinary actions, arrests, and crimes. They do not indicate where crime is most likely to occur. While the Clery Act requires all institutions that participate in federal student aid programs to submit their crime statistics annually, the mandate has its weaknesses. Also, note that a large number of reports might actually reflect positively on schools, potentially illustrating their greater awareness and improved reporting procedures.
Violation Types Reported on Wet and Dry Campuses
Do dry campuses experience less drug and alcohol use? The impact of different alcohol policies has been a subject of extensive debate by the administration, students, college communities, and researchers. While proponents of dry campuses argue a ban on alcohol serves to discourage a “party” culture of heavy drinking, opponents say banning alcohol may drive alcohol use underground where less monitoring is possible. Despite the controversy surrounding the topic, wet campuses have become more common in the past 10 years.
What do more lenient alcohol policies mean for the increasing number of wet universities? According to the university reports in our sample, dry campuses had fewer drug and alcohol violation reports, and crime reports overall were lower across the board. Wet campuses reported over twice the number of liquor disciplinary violations than dry campuses.
The fact that dry campuses reported more liquor arrests than wet campuses – 19 versus 16 per 10,000 enrolled students – may hint at the limitations of dry campus policies. However, it’s possible dry campuses enforce alcohol policies more stringently, with stricter regulation leading to more arrests.
While many schools attempt to comply with campus crime reporting mandates, it is worth noting college crime statistics can be incomplete in some cases. According to “The Columbus Dispatch,” the weaknesses in the Clery Act mandate “allow for thousands of off-campus crimes involving students to go unreported.”
Reporting on Liquor Law Violations
To better understand how wet and dry policies affect campus life, we charted the top five schools for alcohol-related arrests and disciplinary actions. When we first ranked the universities with the highest liquor arrest rates, the results were evenly split between wet and dry campuses. After we added alcohol-related disciplinary actions to the equation, we saw a clear trend of wet campuses dominating the charts.
On campuses where alcohol is strictly prohibited, students may venture off university grounds to socialize, reducing the number of infractions reported on campus. Students in more alcohol-lenient environments may be prone to remain on campus, making the reported on-campus incident rates higher.
In our sample, the number of reported disciplinary actions was much greater than the number of reported liquor-related arrests, indicating universities may often handle alcohol-related infractions independent of the police. The school with the highest rate of combined reported disciplinary actions and arrests was Coastal Carolina University, with 1,070 reported incidents per 10,000 enrolled students, while West Chester University of Pennsylvania reported 275 combined infractions.
While dry campuses were absent from the top five list of schools reporting disciplinary actions, the top five schools for liquor-related arrests included three dry campuses. Minnesota State Mankato, a dry campus, reported 199 such arrests, while West Chester University and South Dakota State University reported 190 and 177 alcohol-related arrests, respectively.
Research has found little evidence of the effectiveness of dry campus policies in curbing the heavy use of alcohol by students. In one study of four public universities with different alcohol policies, a ban on alcohol was not associated with a reduction in heavy drinking. However, there is some evidence these policies may be associated with a decreased likelihood of students developing alcohol dependence.
In the case of West Chester University, it’s clear the school’s “dry” status has not deterred students from maintaining a “party school” reputation. Students report even staff acknowledge WCU as “the wettest dry campus in Pennsylvania.” Researchers note dry campus policies, on their own, may not be sufficient to reduce drinking by students, and additional proactive measures and prevention strategies may be needed to discourage alcohol use.
Reporting on Drug Law Violations
According to the data, wet campuses were more likely than dry campuses to report arrests and disciplinary actions for drug law violations. The top wet campuses for such arrests included Ohio University, with 102 reported arrests per 10,000 enrolled students, Illinois State University with 99, and Western Illinois University with 84.
In 2015, Ohio University was named the No. 1 party school in the nation. With incidents of alleged alcohol-related sexual assault, Ohio University has a previous reputation for alcohol consumption by students. Similarly, University of Albany students have been involved in a number of raucous and sometimes deadly house parties, contributing to the university’s “party school” reputation.
The bottom line: Drinking culture is damaging to more than just scholastic success. The accepted presence of alcohol on campuses has been linked to “normative environments,” where the use of intoxicating substances, including illicit drugs, by students is regarded as a typical part of college life. Uninitiated students who use alcohol in the name of social experimentation may be blind to the dangers and their own limits.
Crimes Reported on Wet Campuses
On dry and wet campuses, burglary, rape, and vehicular theft are all top-reported crimes. However, one difference between alcohol-tolerant and alcohol-free universities is clear: Wet campuses experience notably higher rates of all of these crimes.
For instance, wet campuses reported a 31 percent greater rate of burglary than dry campuses. Reports of rape were nearly 50 percent more common on wet campuses, and vehicle theft was almost two-thirds more commonly reported than on dry campuses.
Studies have shown alcohol can contribute to aggressive behavior, and drinking is frequently involved in criminal activity, particularly violent crimes such as sexual assault and domestic abuse. Other surveys found about 40 percent of people imprisoned for a violent crime were drinking when the offense took place.
Wet Campus Violations for Schools Banning Hard Liquor
Not all campuses take a zero-tolerance approach to drinking. In recent years, renowned universities such as Stanford, Dartmouth, and the University of Virginia have instituted bans on hard liquor specifically. These policies were established after alcohol was involved in a number of notable sexual assault cases at these universities. Studies show of all substances involved in drug-facilitated sexual assaults, alcohol is, by far, the most commonly used, more so than any date-rape drug.
Among wet campuses, those without a ban on hard liquor experienced greater rates of substance-related disciplinary actions and arrests, with a 28 percent higher frequency of discipline related to liquor and a 27 percent greater rate of liquor arrests. Some high-profile campus bans on hard liquor have been instituted very recently (at Dartmouth in 2015, and Stanford in 2016). Since the adoption of these policies by more schools, liquor-related arrests among colleges and universities with such bans have fallen by over 45 percent since 2014.
Dealing With Consumption and Crime
College life can be an enriching experience for students – but it’s also a time when many students risk the dangerous consequences of substance use to participate in college drinking and drug-related social activities.
Our report shows wet and dry campuses experience drug- and alcohol-related crimes, arrests, and disciplinary actions. While wet campuses reported higher incidents of on-campus crimes and disciplinary actions, it’s unclear what’s happening in university-affiliated environments off campus. The student culture and prevailing attitudes toward drugs and alcohol determine how susceptible an incoming student may be to drug- and alcohol-related crimes and dangers.
Parents cannot rely solely on the university to protect their children and cannot assume a dry campus ensures the absence of alcohol or drugs. Take time to talk to your teen about alcohol and drugs, and the specific dangers college students face when substances are prevalent at college parties and events. At ProjectKnow.com, we provide expert knowledge in simple language for parents and teens to understand drugs, alcohol, and addiction. Visit us today to equip yourself with tools and information to discuss these complicated topics with your teen.
We used the 2015 OPE Campus Safety and Security crime data, which consists of annual submissions from all postsecondary institutions that receive Title IV funding. The collection is required by the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, as well as the Higher Education Opportunity Act. We examined large, nonprofit four-year schools with at least 10,000 enrolled students (334 colleges total). We determined whether these colleges have wet or dry campuses – a “dry” campus meaning alcohol is banned (even for students 21 and older) – based on the information available on their websites.