Medical students Erica Mayer ,left, and Lucy Martin get ready to toast their graduating class June 8, 2000 by drinking samples of warm wine during Harvard commencement ceremonies at Harvard University in Cambridge MA.
Medical students Erica Mayer ,left, and Lucy Martin get ready to toast their graduating class June 8, 2000 by drinking samples of warm wine during Harvard commencement ceremonies at Harvard University in Cambridge MA. - 

Wells College President Jonathan C. Gibralter says administrations he's worked in have been "hit and miss" when it comes to curbing drinking on campus.

"They intuitively seemed like the right thing to do," he told the Chronicle of Higher Education this week, but "we didn't really have any data at that point that we were relying on."

A new tool released by the government Tuesday aims to make those decisions easier and, crucially, give different strategies a cost-benefit analysis. CollegeAIM — the alcohol prevention matrix — distills research into different strategies for cutting down drinking and plots about 60 of them on a simple rubric, rating their effectiveness and cost. 

The results aren't prescriptive or groundbreaking, but it collects a lot of information at a glance. George F. Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which created the tool, told the Chronicle he sees administrators using CollegeAIM like a menu. It's up to the colleges themselves to figure out what's right for their campus and budget.

For colleges trying to get the most bang for their buck, the institute's low-cost/high-benefit options are pretty boilerplate and policy-driven: keeping the drinking age at 21 and bans on Sunday sales; limiting drink specials; distributing literature and administering online surveys about campus drinking. Campuses looking to spend a little more will also have to spend a little more — some of the most effective programs are proactive and personalized, coupled with enforcing basic drinking laws. Also effective, but expensive: broad online alcohol training courses for all incoming freshmen.

CollegeAIM has a third metric showing how much research went into each method, and the list of strategies without sufficient research behind them is surprisingly long, including some cheaper strategies — like bystander intervention training, party patrols, noise laws and substance-free residence halls — along with some really expensive ones, like safe-ride programs, staging special alcohol-free campus events and hitting hosts of parties with harsher penalties for underage drinking.

There's a lot to dig through. Find more here.

Follow Tony Wagner at @tonydwagner