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Maybe if this news came from colleges no one ever heard of, it wouldn't be so stunning.

But when we hear that college presidents from about 100 of the nation's institutions of higher learning are calling on lawmakers to lower the drinking age from 21 to 18, we have to wonder what's in their heads.

Some of the universities include Duke, Dartmouth and Ohio State. Their presidents and former presidents say that the current law actually encourages binge drinking on campus because it's the first time these students are exposed to alcohol.

We would say that is total nonsense.

In fact, according to some federal statistics, binge drinking by high school seniors has dropped from 41.2 percent in 1980 to 25.4 percent in 2006. Binge drinking in the fed's survey as reported by the high school seniors was defined as five or more alcoholic drinks in a row at least once in the prior two-week period.

So if the trend of binge drinking by high school seniors has dropped, what's to lead us to believe that once they head off to college they're back off the wagon and binge drinking again?

We don't believe that that makes any sense at all.

But these college presidents would argue the point.

According to an Associated Press report, the movement called the Amethyst Initiative began quietly recruiting presidents more than a year ago to provoke national debate about the drinking age.

"This is a law that is routinely evaded," said John McCardell, the former president of Middlebury College in Vermont who started the organization. "It is a law that the people at whom it is directed believe is unjust and unfair and discriminatory."

Of course, a movement like this is bound to raise the ire of groups like MADD.

The AP story says that Mothers Against Drunk Driving says lowering the drinking age would lead to more fatal car crashes. It accuses the presidents of misrepresenting science and looking for an easy way out of an inconvenient problem. MADD officials are even urging parents to think carefully about the safety of colleges whose presidents have signed on.

"It's very clear the 21-year-old drinking age will not be enforced at those campuses," said Laura Dean-Mooney, national president of MADD.

Both sides agree alcohol abuse by college students is a huge problem.

Research has found more than 40 percent of college students reported at least one symptom of alcohol abuse or dependance. One study has estimated more than 500,000 full-time students at four-year colleges suffer injuries each year related in some way to drinking, and about 1,700 die in such accidents.

A recent Associated Press analysis of federal records found that 157 college-age people, 18 to 23, drank themselves to death from 1999 through 2005.

We think, however, that students are getting a bad message from these presidents.

Here's a good example. Moana Jagasia, a Duke University sophomore, said reducing the age in the U.S. could be helpful.

"There isn't that much difference in maturity between 21 and 18," she said. "If the age is younger, you're getting exposed to it at a younger age, and you don't freak out when you get to campus."

We would venture to say that there is a big difference between a high school senior and someone about to graduate college at age 21.

Hurley, of MADD, has a different take on the presidents.

"They're waving the white flag," he said.

We agree. Drinking on college campuses is a huge problem. But it's not because of the legal age limits. Colleges need to be vigilant and work with the local police, MADD and other groups to educate kids.

Just giving them the bottle three years earlier won't do anything but make a bad problem worse.

-- Daily Local News, West Chester

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