Should the drinking age be lowered to 18?

College presidents around the country are pushing for a lower drinking age. They say it would lower the amount of binge drinking going on. This issue, of course, is of prime concern to the Upper Midwest, where binge drinking far exceeds the national average.

The movement called the Amethyst Initiative began quietly recruiting presidents more than a year ago, the Associated Press reports.

“This is a law that is routinely evaded,” said John McCardell, former president of Middlebury College in Vermont who started the organization. “It is a law that the people at whom it is directed believe is unjust and unfair and discriminatory.”

Other prominent schools in the group include Syracuse, Tufts, Colgate, Kenyon and Morehouse.

But even before the presidents begin the public phase of their efforts, which may include publishing newspaper ads in the coming weeks, they are already facing sharp criticism.

It’s unlike the idea is going to get a lot of support from politicians. A survey out today shows parents are “fed up” with party schools and politicians who advocate a lower drinking age.

Take the survey:

(Update: See the signatories below the fold.)

President Vincent Maniaci, American International College

President Jerry M. Greiner, Arcadia University

President Ronald Slepitza, Avila University

President Elizabeth Coleman, Bennington College

President Scott D. Miller, Bethany College

President Bobby Fong, Butler University

President David Wolk, Castleton State College

President Mark J. Tierno, Cazenovia College

President Carmen Twillie Ambar, Cedar Crest College

President Esther L. Barazzone, Chatham University

President John Bassett, Clark University

President Anthony G. Collins, Clarkson University

President James R. Phifer, Coe College

President Rebecca S. Chopp, Colgate University

President Robert Hoover, College of Idaho

President Mary Pat Seurkamp, College of Notre Dame of Maryland

President Frank Miglorie, College of St. Joseph

President Richard Celeste, Colorado College

President Dennison W. Griffith, Columbus College of Art & Design

President James E. Wright, Dartmouth College

President G. T. Smith, Davis & Elkins College

President William G. Durden, Dickinson College

President Robert Weisbuch, Drew University

President Richard Brodhead, Duke University

President Donald R. Eastman III, Eckerd College

President Theodore Long, Elizabethtown College

President Thomas Meier, Elmira College

President Richard E. Wylie, Endicott College

President Jeffrey von Arx, Fairfield University

President Kendall A. Blanchard, Georgia Southwestern State University

President Janet Morgan Riggs, Gettysburg College

President Sanford J. Ungar, Goucher College

President Jack Ohle, Gustavus Adolphus College

President Joan Hinde Stewart, Hamilton College

President Walter M. Bortz, Hampden-Sydney College

President Ralph J. Hexter, Hampshire College

President Susan DeWine, Hanover College

President Nancy O. Gray, Hollins University

President Barbara Murphy, Johnson State College

President John J. Bowen, Johnson & Wales University

President S. Georgia Nugent, Kenyon College

President Daniel H. Weiss, Lafayette College

President Stephen D. Schutt, Lake Forest College

President Thomas J. Hochstettler, Lewis & Clark College

Carol A. Moore, Lyndon State College

President Leonard Tyler, Maine Maritime Academy

President Thomas J. Scanlan, F.S.C., Manhattan College

President Richard Berman, Manhattanville College

President Tim Foster, Mesa State College

President Ronald Liebowitz, Middlebury College

President Frances Lucas, Millsaps College

President Mary Ellen Jukoski, Mitchell College

President Christopher Thomforde, Moravian College

President Robert Michael Franklin Jr., Morehouse College

President Joanne V. Creighton, Mount Holyoke College

President Peyton R. Helm, Muhlenberg College

President Randy Dunn, Murray State University

President Thomas B. Coburn, Naropa University

President Fran Voigt, New England Culinary Institute

President Debra Townsley, Nichols College

President Robert A. Skotheim, Occidental College

President Lawrence Schall, Oglethorpe University

President E. Gordon Gee, Ohio State University

President Phil Creighton, Pacific University

President Loren J. Anderson, Pacific Lutheran University

President John Mills, Paul Smith’s College

President David W. Oxtoby, Pomona College

President Robert A. Gervasi, Quincy University

President Robert R. Lindgren, Randolph-Macon College

President William E. Troutt, Rhodes College

President David C. Joyce, Ripon College

President Gregory G. Dell’Omo, Robert Morris University

President Pamela Trotman Reid, Saint Joseph College (CT)

President Timothy R. Lannon, Saint Joseph’s University (PA)

President Arthur F. Kirk, Saint Leo University

Vice Chancellor Joel L. Cunningham, Sewanee: University of the South

President Carol T. Christ, Smith College

President Paul LeBlanc, Southern New Hampshire University

President Beverly Daniel Tatum, Spelman College

President Daniel F. Sullivan, St. Lawrence University

President Elisabeth S. Muhlenfeld, Sweet Briar College

Chancellor Nancy Cantor, Syracuse University

President J. Patrick O’Brien, Texas A & M University-West Texas

President Robert Caret, Towson University

President James F. Jones, Jr., Trinity College

President John M. Stamm, Trinity Lutheran College

President Lawrence S. Bacow, Tufts University

President Walter Harrison, University of Hartford

President Louis Agnese Jr., University of the Incarnate Word

President Jennifer Hunter-Cevera, University of Maryland-Biotechnology Institute

President C.D. Mote Jr., University of Maryland–College Park

Chancellor William E. Kirwan, University System of Maryland

President Steven H. Kaplan, University of New Haven

President Geoffrey Shields, Vermont Law School

Chancellor Robert Clarke, Vermont State Colleges

President Ty Handy, Vermont Technical College

President Tori Haring-Smith, Washington and Jefferson College

President Kenneth P. Ruscio, Washington and Lee University

President L. Baird Tipson, Washington College

President Michael Bassis, Westminster College (UT)

President Sharon D. Herzberger, Whittier College

President James T. Harris, Widener University

President M. Lee Pelton, Willamette University

  • According to Fox9, Gustavus’s president signed the letter.

    Someone should chat up him or her.

  • bsimon

    The existing law seems to inadvertently discourage parents from teaching kids about alcohol at home. In fact, there are sanctions, in many states, for trying to teach kids – and young adults in the 18 through 20 age range – about responsible alcohol use. Instead we imagine that, upon one’s 21st birthday, when many (if not most) young adults are living with others their age, they will magically become responsible users of alcohol literally overnight.

    To put it another way, it is irrational and unreasonable for us, as a society, to think that college kids will learn how to be responsible users of alcohol by learning from other college kids.

  • “This is a law that is routinely evaded. It is a law that the people at whom it is directed believe is unjust and unfair and discriminatory.”

    Is that the new measure for having a law repealed/changed? If so, stay tuned for an extensive list of laws that I think need to be changed to suit my tastes.

    I agree with Brian. Binge drinking comes from two sources:

    – underage drinkers that are “routinely evading” the law drink during the relatively rare occasions when they can, and exhibit a buffet mentality: get as much of it as you can while you can.

    – The all-important lesson of moderation is not being taught by the more experienced because the law forbids chaperoned drinking. I will drink a beer or sometimes two in front of my daughter. Never more than that. She sees the example of moderation. My sister-in-law completely shelters her boys from seeing anyone drinking alcohol at all, and even barked at me once for having the gall to order a beer for dinner when they joined us at a sports bar for dinner. Those kids are not going to have any idea at all about what is an appropriate amount to drink.

  • Do you believe lowering the drinking age would cut binge drinking in Minnesota?

    Oops, I didn’t answer the question. No, lower the drinking age would not immediately cut binge drinking. In fact, I think that in the short term it would increase it.

    After the novelty wears off and the aforementioned experience is gained, then yes, I think it could, but at the cost of increasing overall drinking. In other words, it’s possible that the binges would just be spread across a longer timeframe. Is long-term, paced drinking preferable to binging? Hard to say.

  • quanticle

    Lowering the drinking age to 18 would reduce the amount of binge drinking on college campuses but it would not lower the total amount of binge drinking. Rather, the binge drinking would simply shift to high school, and you’ll hear stories about a binge drinking epidemic in high school.

  • Tylor

    I think it might decrease binge drinking on college campuses, but only increase it among high schoolers, where it becomes even more dangerous.

  • brian

    “I think it might decrease binge drinking on college campuses, but only increase it among high schoolers”

    Unfortunately, there already is pleanty of binge drinking in High schools… I don’t think lowering the drinking age will have much effect on it, unless it leads to less binge drinking overall and that trickles down to high school students.

    Lowering the drinking age isn’t going to reduce binge drinking on its own. The only way we are going to curb binge drinking is getting people to realize that it isn’t the only way to have fun and that drinking in moderation is actually more fun. There is the perception that drinking a lot is just what people do and people don’t give the alternative a second thought. I don’t know how we can fix that. It seems like showing people responsible drinking early on is a good start.

    I mainly the drinking age should be lowered because it seems silly to me that we are considered “adult” in every other way at 18. We should either be able to drink at 18, or we shouldn’t be able to smoke, vote, and join the militay until we are 21.

  • Heather

    I don’t see how binge drinking is necessarily related to age — it’s more about attitude — and I agree heartily with bsimon. Where are kids supposed to learn anything OTHER than binge drinking? College is definitely not the place, whether or not a particular school has a “party school” reputation.

    Years ago, I was in charge of a dorm. I would have been VERY grateful for a lower drinking age. The energy spent in an “enforcement” mentality, as far as I’m concerned, is wasted. Take away the need to sort out of-age vs. under-age students and the cat-and-mouse games involving underage drinkers, and you get much more opportunity for meaningful learning.

  • Fred

    I was in the wave of 18 year olds that benefitted from the first experiment in letting 18 year olds drink back in the mid 70s. It started in Wisconsin first and those of us who lived near the border could use our federal and state IDs to drink. It changed in Minnesota by the time I got to college.

    I can’t remember when, but years later the law was repealed because it was determnined the younger age was causing too many drunk driving accidents. We have come full circle.

  • bsimon

    ” the law was repealed because it was determnined the younger age was causing too many drunk driving accidents.”

    Perhaps the appropriate solution is not to change the drinking age, but to change the sanction for driving drunk. My understanding is that in places like Europe, where booze is part of the culture, people still don’t drive drunk. If you do, you lose your license to drive. Period. That seems like a far more appropriate sanction than locking people up – and would be a real incentive – especially for young people – not to drink & drive.

  • Phil

    The Tao Te Ching noted that the more laws, the more lawbreakers. This law is ignored by many otherwise upstanding people (and most people reading here). Why make more criminals?

    Although society can be shaped in some ways, that power has limits. It reminds me of some sidewalks in my college days: The landscapers laid out sidewalks in a nice pattern, certain to minimize materials costs by choosing straight lines. The problem was it wasn’t the best way to get between buildings, and paths were quickly worn into the lawn along the best routes. After two years, they finally ripped out the sidewalks and laid them along the worn-in paths. A concession to reality.

    We need the same for alcohol laws. And as a trade-off, raise the driving age to 18…..

  • jnicolai

    It is not equitable to consider children to have equal responsibilities as adults when it comes to crimes, but not to priveledges. Similarly, it is not equitable to require 18 year olds to assume almost all the responsibilities of adulthood but not be allowed to drink. If alcohol is a legal product, it should not be age restricted.

    If the concern is that younger citizens are more likely to drink and drive…well, there are already laws against drinking and driving. Spend your time and effort enforcing those. Increase the penalties – first offense – lose your license for 5 years. Second offense or getting caught driving without a license after a DUI conviction – lose your license for life and spend a year in jail. I bet you drinking and driving would decrease for all age groups.

  • SB

    I doubt that lowering the drinking age would change the binge drinking behavior occurring on many college campuses. I think we need to seriously examine why many college and high school aged kids feel this is a necessary activity in which to participate. Perhaps it has to do with glorification of alcohol on the countless reality shows students watch, or “peer-pressure”; whatever the case, it’s a big problem.

    I agree with some of the previous posters and don’t think it has so much to do with age as with maturity. When I was in college, all of two years ago, I chose a dry campus and didn’t start drinking until about a year after graduation. Now, I enjoy one or two drinks every so often and always in moderation. On the other hand I also know several people, my age and older, who still participate in binge drinking weekly. We can’t license people to buy alcohol when they reach a certain maturity level, so maybe these colleges should begin by addressing the “why” of binge drinking rather than changing the drinking age.

  • Kevin

    Lowering the drinking age doesn’t have to be so cut and dried. (pun intended)

    A decade or two ago, I remember reading about police chief who was advocating a lowered drinking age for bars only – so that an 18-year-old could drink at a bar but couldn’t buy alcohol until her or she was 21. This wouldn’t solve every complaint, but it’ would sure help from a teaching and supervisory standpoint.

    The other adjustment could easily be beer at 18 (or at 19, if you want to keep it clear of the high schools) and hard liquor at 21.

    While it may sound silly, I could also see a situation where heavy, filling, high-calorie beer would be allowed before anything else. That way, one’s consumption would tend to be more self-regulating, either by bloating or regurgitation.

    But ultimately, it does come down to the social element, including parenting. I’m very thankful that my parents allowed me to have a beer at meals before college, but I’m also probably fortunate that I was unpopular enough to never be invited to beer parties, either.

  • Bob Collins

    FYI, Midmorning is going to do an hour on this on Thursday. I’ll be live blogging it and probably using some of the comments here.

    So far, as I understand it, the president of Gustavus has not been available to comment on his support for the idea.

  • Al

    I find binge drinking to be absolutely moronic. I drink a glass or two of wine occasionally. I really wish that parents help their parents learn about responsible drinking.

    That said, I really wonder about the logic of the age 21 law. We allow 18 year olds to go to war and decide whether or not they should kill someone. We allow them to die in battle. They come home and can’t be trusted with a bottle of beer.

    An 18 year old can buy house. An 18 year is old enough to decide to take our tens of thousands of dollars in student loans. Many Americans under the age of 21 get marred and at their wedding, can not legally drink a toast to their new marraige. They can be under 21 and have children.

    I’m not arguing that it is a good idea for someone under 21 to make any or all of these decisions. I am saying that this seems a rather silly place to draw the line on maturity.

  • Dan

    Most college kids need their parents to co-sign on loans, so no they can’t directly borrow 10’s of thousands of dollars for college. It takes a responsible hand to help procure these funds.

    The 16-18 drivers are the most inexperienced drivers on the road. Why throw easy access to alcohol into the mix?

    I do agree with many that alcohol is a novelty at that age, so I can understand why many young people are jumping on the 18 year old drinking age band wagon. However, it’s also about responsiblity and safety. Turning 18 doesn’t mean one suddenly becomes mature and responsible. Most 18 year olds have lived under the shelter of their parents and know very little about hard, real-word adult experiences. The 3 year gap between 18 and 21 at least allows for these new “adults” to gain that experience.

  • Matt

    I find it odd that the enemy is “binge drinking” and not the problems caused by irresponsible drinking behaviors.

    MADD is obviously concerned about lowering the drinking age because of their goal of preventing drunk driving. Death and injury from drunk drivers is from the drinker not caring about driving while impaired, which doesn’t have to happen from binge drinking.

    If college students spend a night binge drinking but decide to crash on a couch or get a sober driver, then there’s no danger of drunk driving. If colleges can legally give services to students to prevent drunk driving, then the problem is helped, not hindered.

    As a former college student who did a fair share of binge drinking, I have a hard time believing that lowering the age of 21 changes a student’s decision of drinking 2 beers to 6 the weekend before finals.

  • Td

    I find it sad that any college president is spending his or her time trying to change the drinking age rather than coming up with effective ways to meet the challenge of binge drinking on campus.

    These people respresent some of our finest institutions of higher education and yet they have reduced this issue to one of age rather than personal choice and education.

    What a sad commentary on these members of our intellectual community and their desire to enrich the lives and minds of students.

  • Td

    P.S. In answer to the question: No, I don’t believe lowering the drinking age would help cut binge drinking in Minnesota (or elsewhere).

  • Dorianne

    I agree with Td and bsimon. Although I do think that lowering the drinking age to 18 makes sense in quite a few ways, I don’t agree that it will cut down on binge drinking on its own. HOPEFULLY, if the law was lowered to 18, these colleges would focus their energy on promoting and educating their students in responsible drinking. It wouldn’t be very hard to lower the age but require that all college students take a course in responsible drinking and require that all colleges take steps toward promoting campus-wide responsible drinking.

    I graduated from college in 2005. I knew many “good kids” that had drinking parties mainly because it was cool to be a bit rebellious. I think the only reason I didn’t drink much was because my parents taught me to drink responsibly starting when I was little. My dad usually had one beer with dinner and my mom, one glass of wine. The key work is “one”. I never saw them get drunk and they drank what they thought tasted good, not to get drunk or be cool.

    When it comes to high school drinking, I feel that high schools should also instate classes about responsible drinking. You would hope that parents would teach their kids to be responsible but obvious (and sadly) that isn’t always the case.

    Did I say responsible drinking enough?

  • Sheryl Skoglund

    I hope the United States looks at the culture of drinking in European countries to make the decisions necessary for drinking norms. Teaching youth to drink in a social manner versus letting them have a first taste at twenty one may help reduce the bingeing.

    Social Psychologist may want to research why twenty one year olds are bingeing instead of studying in college.

  • Dorene

    I oppose lowering the drinking age.

    I lived near the Uof M campus when it was raised to 21, and I was opposed to raising it at the time. However, the higher age did wonders for the livibility of the area!

    If people keep their neighbors awake with a loud party at 1 AM on a Tuesday morning, they can mostly ignore police requests that they quiet down. Apparently, it is within our rights to be loud jacka**es at 1AM on Tuesday mornings.

    Today, if anyone attending the party is an underage drinker, the party is shut down and the hosts can face charges. College students, who actually do trend towards intelligence despite evidence to the contrary, know this, and so the parties are smaller and quieter, and actually do go away once the police visit.

    Further, I do not understand the contention that lowering the drinking age would cut down on binge drinking. I do understand the contention that lowering the drinking age would increase DUI accidents and innocent victim deaths. (At least with binge drinking, you are killing only yourself, while with DUI you are murdering others.)

    BTW, I also understand the contention that younger brains are more damaged by alchohol consumption, but do not know whether the source of that “fact” is impartial.

  • travis

    i think yes it should be lowered i’m 18 i can go to the store and buy a pack of smokes my parents can kick me out of the house if they wanna. but i cannot go to the bar it just dont make since all the things you can do but you cant drink. even tho i know alot of people that do.

  • Nina S


  • chrisitine

    well i am a student and i do believe the drinking age should be lowered to 18, its not just cuz i wuna drink. Its because when your a teen, you want to try new things and juss be out there. With the age limit changed teens wont really care to be out there and drink. cuz its legal. teens think like this if my mom and dad dont want me doing this, then im guna do it just to see and experience it. would you rather have your child doing it behind your back or being where you can see what they do. think about it.

  • chelsea

    i think the drinking age should be lower becuse if we just leave it to 21 then kids younger then that will find a way to get beer and all that