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Underage citations mean host of consequences

From the Altoona Mirror

Penn State Altoona freshman Acacia Kelley has a good idea how an underage drinking citation could affect her life.  School expulsion, future career plans, the 18-year-old rattled off as she balanced a laptop on her legs while sitting on a campus bench Wednesday afternoon.

“My mom wouldn’t be too happy with me,” she said. “I try to be smart about that stuff.”

Beside criminal charges and disappointed parents, college students caught drinking while under age also face consequences at school.

After Logan Township Police broke up a party Aug. 25 on Woomer Road, more than 35 Penn State Altoona students are doing just that.

Logan Township Police Chief Ron Heller said only three arrests were made during the first two weeks of school last year.

Residents in the area of Woomer Road made complaints about the college crowd’s partying and police plan to “take an aggressive stand,” he said.

“They call us, we will respond and take action,” Heller said.

Penn State Altoona’s head of judicial affairs Jay Burlingame said 90 percent of the cases he sees involve alcohol to some degree.

“It’s obviously a part of our society,” he said.

Burlingame said the campus wants to help students “learn from their mistakes.”

Every student offense is considered on a case-by-case basis, Burlingame said. A warning letter sent to the student for a minor infringement such as walking down the street with a beer in hand is customary, he said. Logan Township and campus police notify the parents of students who are under 21, but city police only notify the parents of students under 18, Burlingame said.

A blood-alcohol level of more than 0.15 percent lands a student in the judicial affairs office no matter what, he said.

PSU does not apply a three strikes rule but does have a zero tolerance policy, meaning the school does “not ignore the behavior,” he said.

According to the school’s Web site, students can face educational sanctions such as participating in an alcohol education program or performing community service. Administrative sanctions include a warning, probation and suspension.

After an offense, students are not restricted to how many credits they can take.

How effective sanctions are is up to each student, but return offender rates are “fairly low,” he said.

“The majority of our students don’t get into trouble,” he said, adding that 80 to 90 percent of students never end up in his office.

In 15 years, only one student has had an expulsion, where he or she was not allowed to ever enroll in a Penn State institution again, Burlingame said.

Last year, 200 students completed a campus intervention program, Burlingame said. The AWARE program is an alcohol and drug intervention program with three severity levels. The most severe deals with students who have major problems such as a driving under the influence charge or are at a high risk for alcohol poisoning, according to the school’s Web site.

If a student completes the AWARE program after a referral from either his office, a magisterial district judge or in rare cases themselves, underage drinking charges are dismissed. A student still will receive a 90-day license suspension, which PennDOT might later remove, Burlingame said.

“We try to make it as educational as possible,” Burlingame said of school response.

In 2008, Penn State began requiring incoming freshmen to complete AlcoholEDU for College, an online alcohol prevention program, before coming to campus. The online program is aimed at raising awareness and promoting appropriate use of alcohol.

Mount Aloysius College Student Affairs Vice President Jane Grassadonia stated in an e-mail that besides parent notification, underage students caught drinking the first time face a fine, and the college’s counseling services evaluate and assess the student.

“Repeated violations result in referral to the Student Conduct Board for review of loss of housing and an individual’s status at the college,” she wrote.

Since 2008, no Mount Aloysius student has faced underage drinking charges, Grassadonia stated.

“We call parents,” St. Francis University Vice President of Student Development Frank Montecalvo said. “We call parents the first time.”

No drinking is permitted in residence halls, he said.

Besides a call home to mom and dad, a first offense at St. Francis results in counseling, probation and community service.

A student on disciplinary probation cannot play sports, and he or she can lose scholarships, Montecalvo said.

Drinking can lead to a downward spiral for students, but they can learn from each other, he said.

Parents play a role, as well.

“More than ever, parents are getting it,” he said. He said parents are partnering with the school. “That’s the partnership that would frame success.”