Getting Drunk Rationally–College Life Edition

Let’s just put this up front: Excessive consumption of alcohol and alcohol addiction are bad. It’s even more bad when those involved are underage college students (or even younger). Okay? Okay.

Now, we can debate what the threshold of “underage” is (currently, 21 years in the United States) versus what it could be (18 in most of the rest of the world). If we adopted the global standard, there would be very few US college students who are underage. Problem solved, right? I doubt college administrators would agree (but maybe they should…see below).

While drinking is a hallmark of the US college experience, it is a problem–whether students are underage or not. According to a recent survey of students here at the University of Missouri (MU), 86% drink alcohol regularly; 38% of underage drinkers drink to get drunk, and 68% of Greek students binge drink (ban the Greeks! no, not those Greeks). Binge drinking is defined as 5+ drinks in two hours for men, 4+ for women. Despite these numbers, fewer than 1% of students were arrested for a DUI and almost no students ran afoul of campus administration. But the numbers reflect a lot of irresponsible and illegal drinking, so the University has launched an effort to reduce the incidence of underage drinking and high-risk drinking.

One of the proposals, which has been embraced by other universities, is to increase the number of Friday morning classes. A 2007 study showed MU students with no Friday morning classes drank twice as much on Thursdays as those who had classes. Now, this fact doesn’t take into account the self-selection by students to take Friday morning courses–presumably, those who are less worried about drinking are more likely to choose the Friday courses. But if we take it at face value (as the administration would have us do), it means students are drinking responsibly when they have incentive to do so. Students rationally respond to the expected consequences of getting hammered on Thursday morning and having to be up early (and hung over) for classes on Friday.

I believe the proposal for Friday classes, while it might have some effect, is actually a pretty bad idea. And it’s not because I prefer to teach Tuesday/Thursdays so that I have longer weekends (though it is nice to have the flexibility for traveling and not missing class). Continue reading Getting Drunk Rationally–College Life Edition