Study reveals party schools’ lack of intervention

Alcohol consumption at nation’s top party schools has not shown an ounce of improvement over 12 years.

by Maureen Landsverk

Alcohol consumption is an accepted tradition of collegiate life. Whether youâÄôre a first-year or a fourth-year, a microbiology major or a cultural studies aficionado, a sorority sister or a member of Campus People Watchers, the exposure of alcohol seems universal and unavoidable. Social approval, however, does not exactly legitimize the practice. The Princeton Review, among its many respected categorizations and ranking systems, publishes a highly anticipated âÄî and hotly debated âÄî âÄútop party schoolsâÄù list. Such rankings have arguably spurred inter-college competition among students, many of whom take pride in a high standing on the list. The merit of publicly advertising such statistics has long been controversial. Saying the list âÄúlegitimiz[es] high-risk drinking,âÄù Ph.D. and Director of the Office of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drug Abuse Prevention at the American Medical Association (AMA) Richard Yoast is strongly opposed to the public ranking of party schools, citing its effect on studentsâÄô behavior. âÄúThe Princeton Review should be ashamed to publish something for students and parents that fuels the false notion that alcohol is central to the college experience.âÄù Ken Winters, Ph.D. and professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Minnesota, weighs in on the same side, âÄúwhen a list such as âÄòParty SchoolsâÄô âĦ is published, it may inflate expectations [of drinking standards] by incoming students âĦ Having this type of perceived norm for drinking can encourage some individuals to drink more than if they held a more conservative view of the drinking norm at that school.âÄù A University of Minnesota research team led by Dr. Toben Nelson, assistant professor of epidemiology and community health, conducted a study that may back these claims up. The study reveals that drinking habits at alcohol-prone colleges have not yet changed in a society we would like to think is more aware of the dangers of alcoholism. In the study, researchers surveyed 18 colleges known for their studentsâÄô chronic abuse of alcohol from 1993 to 2005. During the 12-year period, rates of alcohol consumption did not improve. Four out of five students at the surveyed schools drink; more surprisingly though, over half the students assessed still reported participating in episodic or binge drinking. Dr. Nelson emphasizes the community-university partnership as the key to solving binge drinking and harmful alcohol-related activities on campuses. âÄúCommunities have to be active partners in prevention to successfully address student drinking. Implementing the recommended interventions is where colleges and communities need to develop those partnerships.âÄù He also mentions that where these party schools are located, alcohol is more available to the masses, and enforcement of underage drinking laws is more lax. This leads to the growing trend of alcohol as a commonality in culture. Included in the study are statistics involving drunk driving. The figure remained at 37 percent in both 1993 and 2005. He cites the four-tier system of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) as an ideal methodology in understanding ways best suited to combat excessive drinking habits in college environments. Tier two, recommended by Dr. Nelson, is geared toward effectiveness with general populations, boasting numerous projections of beneficial effects both within the student population and throughout the community. It specifies restrictions on alcohol-retail density, the formation of a campus-community coalition and increased enforcement of underage drinking laws. The study concludes that âÄúaddressing student alcohol use at heavy drinking colleges may require stronger, more consistent and more comprehensive approaches, with increased emphasis on the alcohol environment.âÄù To counter poor decisions, a happy medium must be reached. Dr. Nelson defines the results of the study to reveal a much needed change in the way schools counter heavy drinking. âÄúThe implication of the research is we need to try new strategies. There are many good interventions available with a strong scientific basis, but few colleges or communities have implemented them.âÄù The UniversityâÄôs switchover to a âÄúdryâÄù campus hasnâÄôt had the desired effect. After more than a decade of heavy binge drinking and quiet consent to the culture of alcohol consumption, the University of Minnesota needs to intervene and find new ways to reduce the prevalence of alcohol on and around campus. Maureen Landsverk welcomes comments at [email protected]