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Freshman Year

Busted! University of Michigan To Tell Parents of Alcohol Violations

What Freshmen Know (And What They Don’t) 0:55

University of Michigan is piloting a new program aimed at curbing drug and alcohol abuse among first-year students: Violate school policy more than once, and Mom and Dad get a phone call.

The strict initiative "focuses on first-year students because research shows that they are an at-risk population as they transition to college," according to the announcement made this week by university officials.

Staff at the Ann Arbor school's wellness center will contact families of freshmen under age 21 if a student violates the drug and alcohol policy two or more times, or commits a violation while under the influence, such as driving or causing property damage, or if the student requires medical attention after becoming intoxicated.

Mary Jo Desprez, director of the Wolverine Wellness Center, told NBC News the pilot program is designed to help "broaden the network of support when you see a behavior pattern or a serious issue" that a student is facing.

The phone call "isn't coming from the Dean of Students' office as a discipline issue," she said. "The university has been really intentional about making this about a student's health and well-being."

In an email to first-year students, E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, and Eddie Washington, executive director of the division of public safety and security, said university police would be partnering more closely with the Ann Arbor police in off-campus neighborhoods.

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"The safety of our students is our No. 1 priority. Our actions are intended to reduce the risk of harm and increase the safety of every student," they wrote.

They also said that university also plans to update its "Stay In the Blue" app, which helps students keep their blood-alcohol level in the legal level and uses GPS to help find a cab when it's not safe to get behind the wheel.

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University of Michigan said many other universities contact students' families to address drug and alcohol problems.

"While new to U-M, parental notification has been utilized by many universities, including most other Big Ten schools as one component of a comprehensive program," Kim Broekhuizan, a university spokesperson, told NBC News in an email.

At the University of Michigan, which has nearly 44,000 students, "alcohol and other drug-related harm continues to be the top public health issue on campus," according to the announcement.

The school has seen an uptick in the number of alcohol and drug violations. According to the Office of Student Conflict Resolution, there were 465 alcohol and drug incidents during the 2013 to 2014 academic year, up from 404 the previous year.

Michigan is one of about 100 schools in the country that has what's called a collegiate recovery program, a university-funded program that helps students struggling with drug and alcohol addiction to stay sober and thrive in college, the wellness center's Desprez said.

"Students' health and safety is at the forefront here," she said. "A college environment can be a very vulnerable place for someone in recovery."

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Notifying undergrads' parents about delinquent behavior is not a novel concept. Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), colleges and universities can report alcohol or drug violations to a student’s parents if the student is under 21 or is as a dependent on the parents’ federal income tax return.

Among the schools that have had similar policies in place for years are Virginia Tech and George Washington University.

Virginia Tech's three-strikes policy is among the harshest: After three or more violations, students can be asked to leave for a semester or more, and in 2010, the school announced that students' parents could be notified after the first offense.