First-years pilot online alcohol use survey

Aug 27th, 2009 | By | Category: August 27, 2009, Campus News, Issue

Interactive program designed to curtail high-risk drinking

In a unique pilot program, incoming first-year students at UNL have completed an online alcohol education program designed to assess students’ attitudes about and use of alcohol, while giving them information about their peers’ norms.

The interactive online survey gathers from and gives information to students about drinking as part of an ongoing campus-community effort to reduce high-risk drinking among UNL students. Students are expected to complete the program prior to coming to campus for the fall semester. Follow-up surveys are planned at two additional points during the academic year to help assess the program’s effectiveness.

“Web-based personalized feedback research has shown that the information students receive is a powerful deterrent to adopting binge or high-risk-drinking behaviors once they arrive on campus,” said Linda Major, assistant vice chancellor for Student Affairs. “The program also reinforces those students for maintaining low-risk choices including the choice to abstain from alcohol.”

While many campuses are adopting a similar strategy, Major said UNL is unique in that the Web-based curriculum is tailored specifically for incoming freshmen by providing accurate social norms data reflecting the attitudes and behaviors of their peers.

Through the multi-question interactive Web-based educational program, students learn that their perceptions about drinking in college – particularly their perceived exaggerated frequency of students’ drinking and the quantity of drinks that college students actually consume – are not reality. The program educates students about alcohol, its effects and campus/community laws, policies and consequences to provide accurate information for students to make better decisions, and gives them tips on how to assist or react to drinking behaviors among their peers.

The goals of the program are to maintain a safe campus environment by increasing awareness of alcohol-related policies and laws and to decrease students’ high-risk behaviors.

“We know from our research that students coming to college have misperceptions, like thinking that everyone drinks, that they have to drink to ‘fit in,’ that nobody cares if they drink, that drinking and driving is no big deal,” Major said. “They greatly overestimate the amount of students who drink and the amount that they’re drinking.”

In 2009, Major said 37.9 percent of first-year UNL men reported abstaining from alcohol and 43.9 percent of first-year UNL women abstained from drinking. The percentage of men who reported drinking just a small amount was 25.3 percent, and 34.1 percent for women. The data indicates, Major said, that 65.7 percent of first-year UNL students last year either did not drink or drank alcohol but did not binge. Other students need to know this, she said.

This type of education, when combined with other environmental strategies, is making a difference, Major said. Since 1997, the percentage of first-year UNL students abstaining from alcohol has increased from 15.5 percent to 40.4 percent. Surveys conducted by the UNL Bureau of Sociological Research and the Harvard School of Public Health show a continued decrease in student drinking rates and problems at UNL.

Major said the university project commonly referred to as NU Directions, a combined community-campus coalition, is making a difference, with programs like bar-owner and alcohol server training, the “We Agree” campaign which promotes awareness of the liabilities of neighborhood “house parties,” and on-campus promotional campaigns that raise awareness about alternatives to high-risk drinking and dispelling perceptions that “everyone is doing it.”

Major said raising awareness among parents is also a strategy for the alcohol education program. “Parents in Partnership with UNL = Prevention” is letting parents know that what they say to students before they leave for college has a big impact on their social behavior and their academic success. Parents are also encouraged to promote the online alcohol education program to their children.

— By Kelly Bartling, University Communications

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