Where to Send Your Kid to College If He Does Drugs

It might not be where you think.

Photo | DEA

Ecstasy or MDMA/Molly. Photo | DEA

So let’s say your son is a good kid, a nice kid, smart, nailed his SATs, but he does have this troublesome … habit. He likes to get high.

Nothing serious — you don’t think — but you’ve definitely found rolling papers in the pockets of his jeans, not to mention the bong in the back of his bedroom closet, behind his old ice-hockey gear.

Hey, no big deal; you used to get high, and probably will again if — when — it gets legalized. But considering Junior’s fondness for the Disco Biscuits, you wouldn’t be surprised if he’s done some molly, and didn’t four students at Wesleyan just get arrested for that? You’d hate to see your kid’s whole future derailed over some silly party drug. And he’s going to be applying to college this fall, so …

It may seem a strange consideration to toss into the pot with all the other reasons to choose a college (location, cafeteria food, March Madness appearances), but “stance in the war on drugs” is worth noting, though you probably won’t find it highlighted in the course catalog. An enterprising writer for InsideHigherEd.com, Jake New, did the legwork for you, though, and found surprising variations in how seriously colleges take drug offenses — and one strong trend.

Turns out those Wesleyan arrests — which came in the wake of a bad batch of molly that hospitalized 10 students there — are an anomaly. It might seem logical to send Junior to a big, public party school like Penn State or Florida State and hope he’ll blend in with the good-time crowd. With tens of thousands of students to look after, how serious can these big schools be about cracking down on crime?

But New’s stats show that from 2011 to 2013, Florida State, with 32,000 undergrads, referred 32 students to campus authorities for disciplinary action for drug use on campus — and arrested 400. By contrast, at much, much smaller (3,000-student) Wesleyan, in 2012 and 2013, 521 students were referred for discipline for drug use and four were arrested.

That’s a big discrepancy.

In general, New writes, small, private liberal-arts colleges tend to be heavy on referrals and light on arrests — even when there are lots of referrals. That may be due in part to such colleges’ philosophies of using student violations as learning opportunities. “It’s not ‘You broke the law. Here’s your consequence,’” a student affairs administrator explained to New. “It’s about helping the student make better choices.’” At Colgate, Oberlin, Kenyon, Reed and Occidental colleges — all small liberal-arts stalwarts — each year there are a handful of arrests and dozens upon dozens of referrals.

In contrast, big public schools tend to be less touchy-feely and a lot more no-nonsense, in part because they’re more likely to employ sworn campus police officers and not private security personnel. And some schools are much tougher than others. At the University of Georgia from 2011 to 2013, there were 42 referrals to campus disciplinary processes and almost 200 arrests. Nationwide in 2013, New writes, four-year universities with enrollments of 20,000 or more referred 13,600 students for drug violations while arresting 8,500. “Our process is to enforce the laws as they are outlined with each chapter of our Florida statute,” the FSU chief of police told New. “We try not to apply uneven discretion in drug cases. … We’re there to enforce the laws.”

You’re probably much more inclined to be excited about what your kid will be learning in college than worried he’ll get arrested for using drugs. But as Shakespeare said, it’s a wise father who knows his own child. Just in case, you can check the federal data on colleges’ records for disciplinary referrals vs. arrests at colleges here.

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