Study: first-year alcohol use down

A Boynton survey found first-year drinking dropped 16.8 percent.

by Andrew Johnson

Accessibility to alcohol is often associated with the college experience, but a national trend finds that this is no longer the case for incoming first years, including those at the University of Minnesota.
A survey conducted by Massachusetts-based nonprofit Outside the Classroom, found that more and more incoming college first years donâÄôt drink, compared to survey results from five years ago.
The survey asked incoming students if they had drank in the last two weeks âÄî the âÄúmost accurateâÄù timeframe to measure, Outside the Classroom Founder and CEO Brandon Busteed said.
In 2006, 38 percent of incoming first years said they hadnâÄôt.
Those numbers have now been reversed with the most recent incoming class: Only 38 percent now said they drank, meaning that more than half do not.
The UniversityâÄôs Boynton Health Service also tracks the habits of new students. BoyntonâÄôs 2007 College Student Health Survey Report found that 64.7 percent of 18-year-olds at the University had consumed alcohol in the past 30 days.
In 2010, that number was down to 47.9 percent.
Amelious Whyte, chief of staff at the Office of Student Affairs, has noticed the declining numbers.
Whyte meets with University students after theyâÄôve been hospitalized for alcohol-related reasons as part of a measure to evaluate if it is appropriate to alert their parents.
âÄúMost of those students generally are freshmen,âÄù he said.
He said he has received fewer notices this school year than in the past.
The University has a committee that looks at alcohol-related issues. He said they also support campus campaigns like The Other Hangover, which focuses on the social repercussions of drinking.
âÄúCampuses ought to be moving in dramatic fashion to support [the trend],âÄù Busteed said.
Evidently, this has been a cultural initiative from students as they come to college.
âÄúThere is a major increase in the kinds of students coming to college just not wanting alcohol to be a major part of their experience,âÄù Busteed said.
While the motives behind this drastic decrease are not fully known, the results cite a number of factors, such as the economy.
Students are taking college more seriously due to the difficult economic climate, Busteed said. They correlate their future career with their academic performance and donâÄôt want to jeopardize it through alcohol-related decisions.
âÄúNo one is thinking that alcohol is never going to be part of the framework of college,âÄù said Busteed. âÄúThis is a chance to de-emphasize it in a really important way.âÄù
He said colleges need to explore and invest in alcohol-free social events and programming.
 Laura Coffin Koch, associate vice provost for undergraduate education, said the University does so through orientation and Welcome Week.
Part of Welcome WeekâÄôs philosophy is to provide activities that make students feel part of the campus community and make the most of their four years.
âÄúWe try to get them to think how this is their community, and how they can contribute to it,âÄù Koch said.
She said many of the activities and seminars, in turn, focus on health and well-being.
The Student Network for Abuse Prevention, is one group that presents and promotes itself during Welcome Week.
Betsy Christensen, SNAPâÄôs graduate coordinator, said the group will make efforts at the early part of fall semesters to have events to raise awareness on drug-related issues, primarily with alcohol.
Christensen said SNAPâÄôs approach focuses more on risk-reduction, providing tools and skills to be safer and healthier.
Koch also said that Gophers After Dark, the University-sponsored weekend events series, offers programs during Welcome Week so that students will continue to participate.
While campuses may offer events and activities that are alcohol-free during the week, Busteed said universities need to do make efforts to do so on weekend nights as well.
âÄúAlcohol-free programming not only is a place for non-drinkers to go, but is also a place where drinkers to go on nights they donâÄôt drink,âÄù he said. âÄúEven drinkers, on nights they are drinking, if they go to alcohol-free event, they end up drinking less on those nights.âÄù
He pointed particularly to the hours between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. Gophers After Dark lasts until 1 a.m.
The programâÄôs marketing director, Lizzie Jacobson, said Gophers After Dark doesnâÄôt advertise itself as alcohol-free, but as a safe, free, low-cost environment.
âÄúWe try to come up with ideas that we think would interest a large audience,âÄù said Jacobson. She also said they try to hold a diversity of events too.
Jacobson said about 30 to 40 percent of Gopher After Dark attendees are first years. Film showings included, about 1,500 students attend throughout the course of the weekend.
Whatever the cause âÄî increased dedication to studying, economy or alternative social activities âÄî Busteed said he hopes universities capitalize on the trend.
âÄúItâÄôs a golden opportunity âÄî either theyâÄôre going to blow it or theyâÄôre going to take advantage of it.âÄù