It is possible that community colleges, which have higher percentages of blacks and Hispanics, and correspondingly lower percentages of whites, have lower reported rates of binge drinking by students at least in part because of the racial composition of the student bodies. Similarly, it is important to keep in mind that Asian students have the second lowest self-reported rate of binge drinking in the NIAAA study. At UC Berkeley, 40 percent of the student body is Asian.
Statistics comparing binge drinking by high school graduates who do and do not go to college are also available. One recent study that compared the self-reported drinking behaviors of students attending and not attending college in the age group, which was based on the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth Round 4 data set, found that This finding generally agrees with those of previous studies that college students have a higher prevalence of binge drinking than their same-age non-student counterparts. This in itself, however, does not answer the question whether college is itself a determinant of binge drinking, because it does not tell us whether the higher drinking rates of college students is due to some aspect or aspects of their college experience, or whether colleges simply attract individuals who are more likely to drink.
Fortunately, there is longitudinal data that bears directly on this question, too. That data supports the view that college itself, for whatever reason, is associated with higher rates of excessive alcohol consumption. Aaron M. White, of the Duke University Medical Center, summarizes the data on this question as follows:. Interestingly, if one looks at the drinking levels of high school students, those bound for college tend to drink less while in high school, but then quickly begin to out-drink their non-college peers once arriving at college.
Alcohol use then tapers off again once college students graduate. In other words, there really seems to be something about the college environment that promotes, or at least supports, higher than normal levels of alcohol consumption. The figure below, a modified version of a slide from the NIAAA College Drinking website, illustrates the change in drinking levels over time for college students and their non-college peers.
Researchers have identified some of the environmental and institutional variables in college that are correlated with the excessive consumption of alcohol. Much of this data comes from the CORE Institute database, as it provides information about institutions and also groups respondents by institution. Differences in drinking levels were found for Core Survey respondents based on whether they lived in on- or off campus housing Presley et al.
The average number of drinks per week and the number of heavy episodic drinking episodes were all higher for on-campus residents as compared with off-campus residents, and students with the highest levels of consumption and heavy episodic drinking episodes were those who lived in a fraternity or sorority house Presley et al.
Research from the Core Institute has shown that size of institution is generally associated with quantity of alcohol consumed, with students at smaller schools consuming greater amounts of alcohol on an average weekly basis than students at larger schools Presley et al. It has also been consistently shown that students at schools in the Northeast section of the United States consume more alcohol and have higher episodic drinking rates than students in other sections of the country, with the North Central region not far behind Presley et al.
College drinking is a global issue , according to the NIAA site. Other countries, particularly those in Europe and South America, as well as Australia and New Zealand, report problems with college drinking on a par with those of North America.
Important variables connected with alcohol abuse internationally include male gender, higher socioeconomic status, and higher family education. One could have predicted a higher incidence of binge drinking in college simply because drinking has historically been a part of college culture—one might almost say, an essential part of its ethos and mystique. As the historian of college life, Helen Horowitz, has documented in her important book Campus Life , undergraduate college culture, going back to the 19 th century at least, was largely the creation of the fraternities, and drinking has been very much a part of fraternity culture.
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Scott Fitzgerald painted an indelible picture of this college culture as it had developed in Princeton by the s. College life at Princeton was tonier than it has been at other colleges and universities in America, but a culture built around the consumption of alcohol has historically been a major part of the college scene almost everywhere.
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The Greek system continues to be the major locus of college drinking. The Harvard School of Public Health found that eighty-six percent of fraternity residents and 80 percent of sorority women are binge drinkers five or more drinks in one sitting at least once in the two weeks before the survey was done. This compares with 45 percent of men not affiliated with fraternities and 36 percent of women. Among college students who are members of a fraternity but not residents of a house, the number of binge drinkers is also higher than average—71 percent for men and 58 percent for women.
The Greek system is one of the major issues in American higher education today, and the heavy drinking associated with it is one of the principal reasons. However, excessive college drinking, as the above statistics show, is hardly confined to fraternities and sororities. Even outside the Greeks, 45 percent of college men and 36 percent of college women binge drink.
Blaming college drinking just on the Greeks is therefore a mistake. Moreover, it is important to understand that the culture of college drinking if one is to call it that has been changing, and that the changes have affected fraternities and sororities as well. Changes in the nature of college drinking have been noted by many observers of the campus scene. One of closest observers has been Barrett Seaman, the author of Binge , who has recently written about the Amethyst Initiative in an article that appeared last week in Minding the Campus. Seaman, an alum of Hamilton, became a trustee of that college when he was still working as a White House correspondent for Time Magazine.
He got engaged in the issue of binge drinking at Hamilton as a trustee, and partly as a result of his concern and involvement in that issue was a major player in shutting down the Greek system at Hamilton College. After taking an early retirement from Time, Seaman spent much of his time, with the permission of their college administrations and students, living in dorms and coops at some of the top colleges across North America: Harvard, Dartmouth, Middlebury, Hamilton, the University of Virginia, Duke, Indiana University-Bloomington, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of California-Berkeley, Stanford, Pomona, and Canada's McGill University.
Seaman acknowledges that there was a lot of drinking at Hamilton when he was a student there in the s, but he cannot remember anything like the frequent OD-ing on alcohol, sometimes involving hospitalization, that he observed during the two years that he spent visiting and living on college campuses.
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He also acknowledges that the social function of drinking is often the same now as it was then. Something else is going on that has something to do with a larger social malaise. Many students are faced with mounting debts that they incur in financing their college education. They have serious concerns about globalization, and middle- and upper middle class fears of downward mobility.
The picture that Seaman, the Greenes, and many others have painted of the current college-going cohort is very far removed from the picture of the ivory tower as it seems to still exist in the popular imagination.
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We have noted a number of variables that are associated with excessive drinking in college: the size of the student body smaller schools having higher rates , higher socioeconomic status, higher family education, and a high rate of residency on campus. California State University — Channel Islands. California State University — Chico. California State University — Maritime. California State University — Monterey Bay. California State University — Northridge. California State University — Sacramento. Girl in Translation, by Jean Kwok.
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