According to Gilbert, the nation's legal approach is all about being 18.
"Everything else in our country is based on 18," he told ABCNews.com. They can drive a car, serve in the military, vote, smoke, drop out of school and marry. Even the health records of college students are off limits to parents because of privacy laws after age 18.
But Stephan Landsman, professor of tort law at De Paul University in Chicago, said many college students are "insulated from the real world and not street smart."
Even the Supreme Court has acknowledged in a death penalty ruling that brains under 18 are "not mature."
"The switch is not turned on and they are still developing," Landsman told ABCNews.com. "They are away from home for the first time and are vulnerable."
"But when you make things prohibited, you drive conduct underground," he conceded. "It's true for recreational drugs, marijuana, and it's true in sale of alcohol. So you have a black market and a gray market, behavior that seems a troubling phenomenon."
Kathleen Donohue, a 20-year-old student at Boston College, said many students who can't venture outside the dorms resort to drinking games and consume unhealthy amounts of alcohol.
"Since teenage drinkers can't go out and drink openly at bars and events, they are confined to the dorms where there is not a lot to distract them," she told ABCNews.com.
Landsman claims that data on the link between highway deaths and teen drinking tells lawmakers little about the relationship to minimum drinking ages, and that more "snapshots" should be taken of countries where 18-year-olds can drink. McCardell cites Puerto Rico, where the drinking age is 18 and alcohol-related deaths are down 11 percent.
"These are a pretty smart and reputable bunch," he said of the university presidents, which represent some of the highest-tier colleges, like Dartmouth, Duke, Kenyon and others.
Still, not all college presidents are in the same camp, according to Outside the Classroom (OTC), a company that helps universities address high-risk drinking.
Their board is poised this week to deliver its first annual leadership award – a $50,000 unrestricted gift to a college president who can inspire others to think differently about how to curb binge drinking. The Gordie Foundation, established in memory of the fraternity pledge who died at University of Colorado, was a major contributor to the award.
None of the 18 nominees supports the Amethyst Initiative, according to founder and CEO of OTC, Brandon Busteed.
"There is work presidents are and can be doing now that has nothing to do with the law to help students navigate this terrain," Busteed argues.
"It's great that there is a healthy debate," he said about the reaction to the Amethyst Initiative. "I am a supporter of MADD, but I like McCardell's fresh and new ideas."
Though lowering the drinking age has gotten more press, McCardell has also proposed a drinking license program that 18- to 20-year-olds must complete before be allowed to drink.
Meanwhile, after the death at Colorado, Lizzy Holmgren agrees with the university presidents that an overhaul of the law is needed.
"Once I turned 21, I definitely didn't drink as much," she said. "I drink more often, but in smaller quantities. Before, I would get really, really drunk two nights a week. Now, I have two beers and walk home."
Today, at 22, Holmgren works as a television host in Denver nightclubs where, she says, "With more access, people are much more responsible. If they get really drunk, they are thrown out."