Penn State Students Drink Alcohol…Still

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The surveys are in and the result is clear — Penn State students are consuming alcohol at nearly the same rate as they have over the last six years, despite widespread university efforts to to combat the drinking “problem.” Penn State Student Affairs Research and Assessment recently released its annual report on alcohol which randomly surveyed 1,174 Penn State students about their drinking habits in college. The results are similar to that of the survey’s origin in 2008.

Let’s look at some of the data, keeping in mind the +/- 2.86% margin of error.

Screen Shot 2013-06-24 at 1.54.08 AMPenn State students’ self-classification of their own drinking habits has stayed very close to the margin of error over the last six years. Although the rate of students that classify themselves as “heavy drinkers” is almost double that of 2011, the figure is small enough that there’s probably not a sufficient conclusion.

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Again, when evaluating the amount of alcohol Penn State students drink during a typical night out, the numbers are almost identical year to year. Penn State also reports that 19.5% of respondents — essentially 1 in every 5 students — say they got drunk 7 or more nights out of each month. On the other hand, 29.1% — 1 in every 3 students — say they didn’t get drunk at all.

There is, however, some evidence that “destructive” drinking is on the downswing, despite students consuming about the same amount of alcohol.

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The number of students engaged in “high risk drinking” has gone down slightly over the years. 43.9% of respondents say they had engaged in “high-risk drinking behavior” in the previous two weeks, down from 52.8% in 2008.

And here’s the table that Student Affairs is likely to tout for the next year:

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It appears that Penn Staters are becoming less annoying drunks. Students report that they are burdened less by their drunk peers than ever before. The survey indicates that students are experiencing less annoyances, such as having sleeping/studying interrupted, getting into arguments, or having property damaged, than in the past. The only indirect consequence that hasn’t decreased substantially since 2006 is the category “been a victim of unwanted sexual experience” which has unfortunately fluctuated between 5.5% and 6.3%.

So what does this all mean? After Joe Dado’s tragic death in 2009 following a night of drinking, compounded with Penn State’s dubious number one party school ranking, the university got serious about combatting the perceived alcohol issue with its students.

President Spanier rolled out a 30-point plan in 2010 that aimed to punish the booze out of his students. First-time alcohol policy offenders would be required by Student Affairs to pay $200 to take BASICS (Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students) class — a two part session that most students have found unenlightening. Any alcohol violation would result in parental notification, both on and off campus, despite the whole “you’re an adult now” college orientation pitch. Senior week — the once-glorious week after finals before commencement —  was eliminated forever. The IFC, faced with mounting pressure from the administration, tightened its belt on alcohol consumption at fraternities. And we all know the State Patty’s Day saga by now.

Despite the massive amount of resources Penn State has put towards fighting alcohol, students are drinking at just about the same rate as they did six years ago. The downward trend of indirect drinking consequences shown in the most recent table is promising for Penn State, but are the modest 5-10% decreases in annoyances over the last six years worth the fight? That’s for you to decide.

You can read the full report below.

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About Author

Kevin Horne was the editor of Onward State from 2012-2014, and currently holds the position of Managing Editor Emeritus. He graduated from Penn State with degrees journalism and political science in 2014 and is currently seeking his J.D. at the Penn State Dickinson School of Law. A third generation Penn Stater from Williamsport, Pa., Kevin is a director of the Nittany Valley Society 501(c)(3) and is involved in student government.

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