Special Reports

Increase fine for underage drinking

Students in Judith McKelvey’s Writing in the Social Sciences classes at Penn State will present their “Greatest Hits” ideas for curbing excessive drinking at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the State College Municipal Building.
Students in Judith McKelvey’s Writing in the Social Sciences classes at Penn State will present their “Greatest Hits” ideas for curbing excessive drinking at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the State College Municipal Building. Photo provided

Currently, 50.1 percent of Penn State students younger than 21 are high-risk drinkers, defined as those who consume five or more drinks in one sitting; in short, those who engage in drinking that results in harm to oneself, others or property.

Our question is: Why is it that only a fraction of those underage drinkers actually get caught?

First, we want to explain our focus on underage drinkers. About 75 percent of the student body is younger than 21. If we could contain this population’s drinking habits while we have the advantage of existing laws as a deterrent, our hope is that we might prevent binge drinking from becoming a habit at all.

With better disciplinary measures taken to rein in underage drinking, we hope that by the time students become of legal age, they will have had enough sobriety to develop other nondrinking interests.

Our strongest suggestion is for stricter and more consistent underage drinking punishments. Currently, the fee for drinking-related offenses is set at a maximum of about $300, a fee that has not changed since the 1970s. If we were to adjust this to match the current cost of living, the fee would be closer to $1,000.

Raising the minimum fine undoubtedly would encourage many students to take the penalty more seriously, with the added benefit of helping to ease the financial burden of court costs, police, etc. on communities.

If Parents Are the Solution (PATS), it’s more likely that they will become aware of the problem when their kids have to ask them for help covering the fine, something that will happen more often when the fine is more than pocket change.

In the past decade, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln has gone from an environment like Penn State to the environment we would like to see at Penn State.

As a result of stricter rules and serious consequences for alcohol-related offenses, the town has seen its binge-drinking rate drop from 62 percent to 45 percent. In fact, all crimes were reduced in town, which is the ultimate goal of controlling excessive drinking in State College.

Our group is aware that many of our peers are asking, “What about the Penn State experience?” Many people associate Penn State with heavy partying. But we feel that an institution of higher learning should be associated foremost with responsibility, leadership and academic endeavors.

Penn State’s published mission is to “improve the well-being and health of individuals and communities through integrated programs of teaching, research and service.”

As students of Penn State, we want to improve the well-being of our community, uphold the legacy of those who came before us and improve the Penn State experience for those who will follow us.

Students Leah Stefanski, Erik Olson and Zachary Mauro contributed this column.

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