A recent article in USA Today combined results from several studies, pointing out that first-year students who drink alcohol, on average, spend more time doing so than actually studying. The main source of this information is from over 30,000 students at 76 colleges and universities that required their entering students to participate in an online alcohol prevention program. These students reported spending an average 8.4 hours a week studying. Those students who drank, however, spent 10.2 hours a week doing so.
Data collected here at HERI within the Cooperative Institutional Research Program also illustrates how first-year students spend their time, a topic I also discussed in a radio interview last week on KGO Radio Afternoon News.
What we see when we compare the same students over time with the CIRP Freshman Survey and the Your First College Year Survey is that there are some important changes in how students spend their time from high-school senior to college freshman. Study time increases (although it was fairly low to begin with in high-school, and has been dropping over time). If we look at data from 2006 and 2007 we see that as high school seniors only 44% reported studying 6 or more hours a week. That is less than one hour a day. This percentage rose to 65% by the end of the freshman year, a 50% increase. So even though the amount of time studying is not as high as we would like to see it, it does increase quite a bit from high school to college.
We know from CIRP research, especially Sandy Astin’s What Matters in College, that higher amounts of studying in college are positively correlated with a host of gains.These are not only academic gains, such as higher grades, higher test scores, enrollment in honors level classes, and self-reported gains in cognitive abilities, but more time spent studying also positively correlates with retention, personal goals related to diversity and concern about the environment.Time spent studying is negatively related to alcohol use, meaning that those students who drink more frequently also study less frequently.
A few years ago, Steve Porter, a faculty member at Iowa State University, and I published an article in the Journal of College Student Development that showed that academic involvement was negatively impacted by engaging in heavy episodic drinking (at least one instance of drinking five or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks).In particular, student-faculty interaction was much lower among students who drank at this level.Given that student-faculty interaction has repeatedly been shown to be associated with the greatest gains in college, this adds another reason for institutions to be concerned about the levels of alcohol consumption on their campuses.
Certainly much research over the last few decades has illustrated the additional social and health-related negative consequences of alcohol use. What we do not see enough of are studies which examine the impact of alcohol use on academic behaviors and achievements, a gap that Steve Porter and I were trying to fill with our study. With a renewed look at how much drinking takes students away from the educational enterprise, such as that in the USA Today article, perhaps we will see a greater focus on connecting alcohol consumption and the academic involvement of students.