Booze or Books? Alcohol Awareness and Book Smart!

by: Mike Miller

Alongside time spent studying outside of class, alcohol consumption is the most significant predictor of a student's grade point average. It has more impact than working, watching television, online social networking -- even attending class.

Nobody will be surprised to hear that students are drinking, but because research into how students spend their time often stops short of examining the relationships between extracurricular pastimes and academic outcomes, a study may provide increased leverage in steering new students toward academic success.

Spare Time Use is Key to Success

Todd Wyatt, a doctoral candidate at George Mason University and director of research at Outside the Classroom, a company that addresses student public health issues like alcohol and substance use, wanted to pick up where academic journals sometimes leave off. "I felt that because the research stops at a certain point, there's this intense speculation" about how spare time affects academic performance.

For instance, one need not look far to find an academic who blames the distractions of the Internet or online social networking sites like Facebook for the fact that today's students spend less time than ever studying outside the classroom. But in reality, Wyatt found, that kind of technology -- besides taking up less time in the average student's week than class, working, studying and watching television -- does not appear to significantly affect academic outcomes.

In his study, which surveyed about 13,900 incoming freshmen at 167 colleges and universities who were also taking the AlcoholEDU freshman survey, Wyatt did find some variation in how students' pastimes affect different individuals.

For one thing, he found that students who drink and also volunteer or participate in other activities are less likely than their peers who drink and don't engage in such activities to experience negative consequences from drinking, such as performing poorly on assignments, missing class or work, or hurting their friends or themselves. "They're not drinking less, they're just drinking smarter," Wyatt said.