Alcohol-related arrests on college campuses surged 24.3 percent in 1998, the largest jump in seven years, according to a survey by The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Law enforcement officials and crime experts attributed the increase to more heavy drinking among college students coupled with better reporting and tougher enforcement.
''Alcohol abuse is the No. 1 problem on every college campus in this country, and I don't care how big they are or how small they are,'' said police Capt. Dale Burke of the University of Wisconsin.
The university's 39,700-student Madison campus reported the most liquor law violations - 792 - of any of the 481 four-year institutions surveyed.
The report, released Sunday, showed an 11 percent increase in college campus arrests for drug violations and an 11.3 percent increase in arrests for forcible sex offenses, as well as smaller increases in arrests for weapons violations, assault, arson and hate crimes.
Doug Tuttle, a policy scientist and past public safety director at the University of Delaware, warned against reading too much into the statistics. He noted that while the numbers are required to be published in some form under federal law, the Department of Education will not begin uniform reporting until this fall.
Liquor law arrests, for example, are supposed to include citations. But in the past, some universities reported only instances in which a person was taken into custody, Tuttle said. Now that more schools understand the definition, the number of reported arrests may rise, he said.
Tuttle also pointed to increased enforcement as a possible explanation for the jump.
''I think more institutions are seeing the courts as a way of dealing with these problems,'' he said.
But other experts noted that while enforcement is up, so are reports of hard-core drinking by college students.
A survey released this year by the Harvard School of Public Health found 22.7 percent of the college student population reported frequent binge drinking in 1999, up from 19.8 percent in 1993 and 20.9 percent in 1997. The survey included 14,000 students at 119 colleges.
A frequent binge drinker was defined as a man who drank at least five drinks in a row, or a woman who drank four, at least three or more times in the two weeks before the survey.
Henry Wechsler, a social psychologist and Harvard researcher who led the study, said that until the past decade, alcohol abuse was the ''little secret'' of colleges.
''Colleges do have traditions where drinking is part of their culture, and that needs to be changed,'' Wechsler said.
Capt. Tony Kleibecker of the Michigan State University Police and Burke of the University of Wisconsin said many alcohol arrests come after football games or special events such as concerts.
Michigan State, with 42,600 students, ranked second in the survey in 1998 alcohol arrests with 655, and first in weapons violations with 49. Thirty of the weapons arrests were misdemeanors involving small knives or clubs, Kleibecker said.
According to the survey, the University of California at Berkeley was second in weapons violations with 34 on a campus of 30,300 students, followed by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with 26 on its 16,500-student campus, and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with 23 on its 12,530-student campus.
Berkeley also led the survey's list in drug arrests with 280, followed by Rutgers University at New Brunswick with 138 on a campus of 34,420; North Carolina at Greensboro with 132; and the University of Arizona with 123 a campus of 33,740.
The survey found 20 murders and one manslaughter case reported in 1998, compared with 18 murders and two manslaughter cases in 1997.
Reports of robbery, burglary and motor vehicle theft declined from 1997 to 1998.
After the University of Wisconsin at Madison and Michigan State University, the schools listed in the survey with the highest numbers of alcohol arrests in 1998 were the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with 606 on a campus of 45,400; Western Michigan University with 405 on a campus of 26,130; and Berkeley with 382.
Alcohol often plays a role in the other crimes, particularly sex offenses, said Nancy Schulte, coordinator of drug education services at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
As a result, she said, colleges are beefing up alcohol and drug awareness programs. They need to be asking themselves, ''How am I vulnerable?'' she said.
On the Net:
The Chronicle of Higher Education report: http://chronicle.com/stats/crime