Is Heavy Drinking Really Associated With Attrition From College? The Alcohol-Attrition Paradox


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Abstract

Student attrition at colleges across the United States poses a significant problem for students and families, higher educational institutions, and the nation's workforce competing in the global economy. Heavy drinking is a highly plausible contributor to the problem. However, there is little evidence that it is a reliable predictor of attrition. Notably, few studies take into account indicators of collegiate engagement that are associated with both heavy drinking and persistence in college. Event-history analysis was used to estimate the effect of heavy drinking on attrition among 3,290 undergraduates at a large midwestern university during a 4-year period, and student attendance at a number of college events was included as covariates. Results showed that heavy drinking did not predict attrition bivariately or after controlling for precollege predictors of academic success. However, after controlling for event attendance (an important indicator of collegiate engagement), heavy drinking was found to predict attrition. These findings underscore the importance of the college context in showing that heavy drinking does in fact predict attrition and in considering future intervention efforts to decrease attrition and also heavy drinking.

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