A Proactive Model for Managing Off-Campus Parties

Student friends

Colorado State University has recently expanded its two-month pilot party registration program into an all-year initiative. Adopting a markedly different approach from initiatives at many other institutions and from CSU’s own prior efforts (such as a “party partners” program that offered students who received noise citations for off-campus parties the choice of proceeding through the standard student conduct process or attending an educational seminar), the party registration program focuses on empowering students to police their own events.

The program is designed to:

  • Give students the opportunity to self-monitor
  • Offer proactive education on managing parties responsibly
  • Offer education about the ramifications of citations, the impact of having a criminal record, etc.
  • Provide a quicker response to noise issues in the local neighborhood, in order to increase quality of life, cultivate good will, and promote less strained town/gown relationships

Here’s How it Works

The details:

Students have the option of registering planned off-campus parties with the office of off-campus life. Students provide their first name, the address, the expected attendance, the phone numbers of two contacts, and an email address so that they can be surveyed at the end of the year to provide feedback on the program.

Each Friday morning, the institution provides a copy of the list of registered parties to the city police department, and dispatch adds a code for the registered addresses. If dispatch receives a noise complaint over the weekend, they can cross-reference and see if the address is registered; if so, they can call one of the registered contacts, notify the student of the complaint, and offer a 20-minute window to shut down the party.

In this way, the office of off-campus life has the chance to connect with registering students prior to the party to advise them on how to manage and monitor their party responsibly; if noise complaints do emerge, the students have a warning system in place that allows them a window to police the party themselves; and police department resources are no longer tied up in responding to as many noise complaints. It’s a win-win situation.


The pilot program proved popular — CSU has seen nearly 1,100 students participate. Of these, 88 percent did not receive a warning; 11 percent received a warning, acted on it, and did not receive a noise citation; and the remaining 1 percent (just nine students) received a citation.

When surveyed at the end of the year, 96 percent of students agreed or strongly agreed that they would register again and would recommend the program to friends.

Lessons Learned from CSU’s Model

We interviewed Jean Ortega, CSU’s director of off-campus life, to learn what critical advice she would offer to institutions hoping to replicate or adopt a similar model for promoting more responsible off-campus student parties. Here’s Ortega’s advice.

Tip 1: Ensure All Parties are at the Table (No Pun Intended)

It’s critical to consult all the entities who are impacted by disruptive parties and hear their concerns as early as possible in designing the program. “Be willing to be creative in finding solutions,” Ortega suggests, “and vet the ideas with different populations. Make sure that the city council, long-term residents, the local police, the institution’s legal counsel, and the student government all have the opportunity to review the program.”

Tip 2: Start Small, with a Clear Plan for Assessing Progress

“Approach the process with thought and rigor,” Ortega cautions. After all, the stakes are high -– not just for the students, but for the institution and for the quality of the long-term relationship between the campus and its neighborhood.

Establish a pilot program with a narrow scope (CSU’s pilot focused on the first two months of fall semester and the last two months of spring semester -– when the number of noise citations for off-campus parties is highest). Then identify –- from the outset –- what measures you will use to determine whether the program has been successful, such as:

  • Quantitative measures (number of citations, number of warnings)
  • Intentional learning outcomes (track the impact of proactive education on students’ readiness to manage parties responsibly)
  • Student satisfaction with the program

Tip 3: Define the Privacy of the List

“We had long discussions with the police about who has access to the list of registered parties,” Ortega recalls. “In order to have credibility with students, in order to gain their trust and buy-in with the program, it was absolutely critical in our minds that the list only reside in the hands of dispatch and not in the hands of police officers working the Friday and Saturday night shifts. Without this guarantee, students believed the program would not be a success.

“As administers of the program, we wanted to make sure students’ privacy was maintained and that they would not be penalized for being proactive in registering a party. Although there would have been some benefits to giving police officers immediate access to the list (e.g., resolving any confusion about whether a given address was registered or not), ultimately the police agreed that the security of the list was paramount to the overall credibility and success of the program.”

It will be important to define the philosophy and parameters of your program early:

  • Are you approaching this issue with a judicial focus, or a student development focus?
  • In what ways will the information of students who register parties be used –- and in what ways will this information not be used? (this needs to be defined with clarity and communicated transparently to the students)

Tip 4: Invest in Dispelling Myths about the Program

Inevitably, once the program is live myths will accrue about it on campus. It will be crucial to develop a campaign to dispel myths and communicate the facts about the program to the student community. Simple steps toward this could include posting signs, banners, or posters around campus that identify a myth and dispel it with a fact.