Students at the University of Montana who aren’t old enough to purchase alcohol are required to take a new statewide tutorial this semester on the dangers and consequences of drinking.

The new program, AlcoholEdu, was developed by EverFi and is being implemented by the Montana University System at schools this fall. It requires students under age 21 on all state campuses to complete the two-part tutorial with a passing score.

“It’s a cultural issue in our society, and younger students may not be as in touch with their choices and the consequences of their choices,” said Teresa Branch, vice president of student affairs at UM. “This exercise is deemed to help students make better choices and think more carefully about the consequences of their behavior.”

The course is offered online and takes roughly two hours to complete. Students must score a 70 or better to pass the exercise. Failure to complete or pass the tutorial by late September results in a hold on the student’s registration.

Roughly 3,500 students at UM are under 21 and will be required to take the exercise, Branch said.

“We start with that younger population to try and educate them before they’re exposed to drinking behavior,” Branch said. “We’re often influenced by the people we keep company with, so the more they know, the more they’ll make conscious decisions that will impact their behavior.”

Kevin McRae, deputy commissioner of communications with the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education, said the new alcohol program represents the state’s three-pronged approach to address the barriers to student success within the Montana University System.

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McRae said student affairs officers statewide have identified a number of student challenges, including alcohol use, sexual assault and financial literacy.

“In those three areas, we’re trying to ensure that we’re providing good student support,” McRae said.

A number of schools in the state have long addressed the issues of alcohol use and sexual assault.

The University of Montana developed its own mandatory tutorial addressing sexual assault two years ago. Montana State University and Montana Tech launched the alcohol program five years ago.

But in an effort to get all Montana campuses working from the same page, the commissioner of higher education directed schools across the state to implement AlcoholEdu and a sexual assault program known as HAVEN.

Both programs were developed by EverFi – a company that helps students develop critical life skills. The programs are taken by 500,000 college students nationally each year.

“This is a significant tool for campuses,” said Ron Muffick, director of student affairs with the MUS. “It’s not a silver bullet, but it’s a game changer for some of our smaller campuses, and it adds consistency to our efforts to address the issues that often stand as barriers to student success.”

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Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, or at martin.kidston@missoulian.com.

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