Omaha Colleges Work Together to Prevent High-Risk Drinking

The Omaha Collegiate Consortium, comprising eight colleges and universities, worked together at a time when many universities are reluctant to share the extent of their student drinking problems.

About the Collaboration

Bellevue University students in a group at basketball gameThe University of Nebraska at Lincoln (UNL) has led the way nationally in developing a collaborative town-grown response to high-risk drinking by college students. In 2006, researchers and administrators at UNL, along with administrators from 13 universities and colleges across the state, formed the statewide Nebraska Collegiate Consortium (NCC) in order to share their collaborative approach to address high-risk drinking among all of Nebraska’s institutions of higher learning.

In 2011, the NCC began convening casual meetings of representatives from six schools in Omaha, the state’s largest and most college-dense city. These informal meetings led to the creation of the Omaha Collegiate Consortium (OCC), a local-focused collaboration dedicated to sharing resources and participating in joint efforts to reduce high-risk drinking among the city’s many college students. When Nebraska’s state prevention system, funded by SAMHSA’s Substance Abuse Block Grant and Partnerships for Success (PFS) 2013 programs, decided to allocate funding to OCC as a PFS sub-recipient, the consortium was able to hit the ground running.

Most unique among the OCC’s efforts is its joint approach to collecting and sharing student behavioral data and using these data to create shared interventions. In doing so, the OCC is breaking the long-held taboo against disclosing student alcohol usage data with other institutions. The OCC is among the first collaborations in the nation to implement data-driven citywide prevention efforts aimed at all of the college students in the city.

Elements of Success

Recognize When Local Problems Need Local Solutions

Students walk under arch at Creighton University

Nebraska’s statewide consortium is highly respected among Nebraska colleges and universities for its successful efforts to reduce high-risk drinking. The NCC boasts membership from 26 of the state’s 31 colleges and universities and has dedicated full-time staff members who manage the day-to-day efforts of the collaborative. Megan Hopkins, Project Manager of the NCC, explains that a key function of the NCC is to provide all institutions with access to the same resources and information. In working with Omaha’s colleges and their surrounding communities, however, it soon became clear that a more localized approach was in order—one that enabled the schools to identify and connect to city-specific resources, that reduced duplication of efforts, and that put a local “face” on the area’s prevention efforts. As Nebraska’s largest and most-college-dense city, Hopkins recognized that having the Omaha schools advocating for prevention efforts as a city-specific collaborative, rather than working from the statewide NCC, would ensure a strong negotiating position when working with local business owners, landlords, and college students to reduce high-risk drinking. (A similar city-wide effort was also started in Lincoln, the state capital and second-largest city.)

Generate Action from Commiseration

When Hopkins first brought the Omaha group together, the schools shared the challenges of addressing student drinking on their campuses and reflected on the seemingly enormous task of tackling their problems. Undaunted, the NCC nurtured the OCC into existence by focusing on goals and action, working closely with the coalition to assess the substance-related needs of the city’s colleges, secure external funding through SAMHSA’s Partnership for Success (PFS) grant, staff their collaborative, and develop an Omaha-focused strategic plan of action.

Use Shared Requirements to Jumpstart Your Efforts

In 2013, the federal Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act required colleges to not only accurately report incidents of sexual assault, violence, stalking and hazing, but to also implement programming to address these issues. For the OCC, the SaVE Act was the catalyst for its first joint effort: a climate survey to be administered at each of the city’s eight schools. Working on the survey forced the schools to openly acknowledge the shared burden of high-risk drinking by their college students. According to Debrenee Grajeda, Prevention Lead for the OCC, a key part of this first joint project was highlighting the importance of complying with the federal mandate. “Several of the smaller schools were reluctant to collect this kind of information but there was power in the policy,” says Grajeda. “It gave the smaller schools the impetus to buy-in to the survey.” In February of 2016, all eight schools will complete the climate survey.

Acknowledge and Validate Concerns

Collaborating to create the climate survey also helped the schools understand that their students’ behaviors were in line with larger national and statewide trends in college student drinking. Grajeda explained that she worked hard to prepare the schools for this probable finding, meeting with them individually during the survey’s creation in an effort to “normalize the behavior” that the surveys would likely reveal. The firm insistence on meeting federal reporting requirements, coupled with a sensitive understanding of why schools might be resistant to doing so, helped to establish a tone of collaboration and respect among the members of the OCC.

Honor Differences in Readiness

The eight schools in the OCC are diverse, comprising one large research-based university, several private liberal arts colleges and religious institutions, and a small, women-only college. These schools represent an array of student issues, differing guiding philosophies, and unequal access to resources and funding. Grajeda describes her role on the OCC as fostering a welcoming atmosphere that acknowledges that not all members are equally ready to approach their substance-related problems in the same way, but that respects members for where they are in the process.

To that end, new projects, such as the implementation of an online early intervention program for all entering freshmen, were rolled out incrementally, with some schools taking the lead and other schools following when they were ready--either philosophically or financially. Grajeda explains that implementing in stages allows schools to refine their programs and offer targeted advice to schools just beginning their intervention efforts. Members also spend a dedicated portion of each monthly meeting sharing stories of their efforts and offering guidance and resources to one another.

Make Collaboration Worth Their While

Beyond functioning as the administrative driver of the OCC, Grajeda also provides member institutions with technical assistance to support their prevention efforts. She actively connects schools with resources small and large, from advising them on low-cost printing services to finding a technically proficient evaluator for their prevention efforts. She supports the development of prevention programming, from social norms campaigns to informational websites. She also manages the OCC’s compilation of each school’s data into an aggregate report on the state of college drinking in Omaha. This report provides the OCC schools with a benchmark to assess their own prevention efforts and highlights future areas of collaboration.

In addition to TA and data compilation, Grajeda also recognizes that OCC’s member schools receive different levels of support for their prevention efforts. She therefore works hard to ensure that all shared project undertaken by the group are low-cost. The climate survey, for example, was derived entirely from a survey done at UNL and utilized the same format, design, and web team. The use of an already established instrument from a local Nebraska partner kept the cost of administering the survey low for each of the Omaha schools.

Impacts

Year One College Alcohol Profile (Y1CAP) LogoThough a young collaborative, the OCC represents an innovative approach for college-dense cities to address high-risk drinking by their students. The OCC’s efforts to share the burden of college drinking issues has led to their most ambitious effort to date: the implementation of an early intervention program for entering first-years across the city. The Year One College Alcohol Profile (Y1CAP) is a University of Nebraska-developed online program that uses the principles of brief motivational interviewing to provide entering students with individual-level data on their drinking and tips for change. In the fall of 2015, all eight of schools in the OCC used the Y1CAP on their campuses.

The OCC has worked together to build a parent-focused website at each institution that delivers shared messaging while also connecting parents to institution-specific resources. The Power of Parenting website provides facts about drinking rates on their child’s campus, advises parents on how to discuss alcohol use with their college students, and offers developmental information for parents on young adulthood. The OCC is also in the initial stages of convening a joint college, city-wide coalition of students to address high-risk drinking in Omaha’s colleges and universities.

In its three short years of existence, the OCC has grown from six institutions whose meetings were characterized mainly by commiserating, to a group of eight institutions with a strategic plan of action and SAMHSA PFS funding to drive their efforts. The success of this collaborative is due in large part to the active mentorship they received from the older statewide NCC, and to the atmosphere of respect, trust and collaboration among members that were fostered from the start.

Published: 
02/01/16
Last Updated: 09/25/2018