October 19, 2007

Study Links Alcohol and Absences

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For many students at Cornell and other schools across the country, the weekend starts on Thursday nights. This trend, known to some as “Thirsty Thursday,” has recently come under attack by college and university officials.
Prompted by pressure to reduce underage drinking and the results of a recent study, some schools are increasing the number of Friday morning classes in order to curb students’ Thursday night drinking habits.
At Cornell, 81 percent of Cornell undergraduates report taking Friday classes and about one in four students has missed class at some point because of alcohol or drug use, according to Deborah Lewis, alcohol projects coordinator at Gannett.
In March, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a “Call to Action” about underage drinking, urging colleges and universities to “reinstate Friday classes to shorten the elongated weekend” as a strategy to reduce the risk of adolescent alcohol use.
A University of Missouri-Columbia study, published in July, studied the drinking patterns and academic schedules of 3,341 undergraduate students over the course ofeight semesters. The study titled “College Student Alcohol Consumption, Day of the Week and Class Schedule” concluded that “students with no Friday classes drank approximately twice as much on Thursdays as students with early Friday classes.”
In addition, classes held after noon did not have a limiting effect on Thursday night consumption.
The study also notes that Friday classes did not affect consumption of alcohol on Friday and Saturday. In other words, students who do not drink on Thursday nights are not compensating or participating in “catch-up” drinking on the weekend.
“It would appear, based on these observational data, that early Friday classes represent a cost-effective way to reduce alcohol consumption on campus,” said Prof. Phillip K. Wood, psychology, Univ. of Missouri-Columbia, who authored the study with two colleagues.
However, an increased number of Friday classes does not appear to be a possibility at Cornell any time soon.
“It’s not something we’ve worked towards in the University because by and large, students report having Friday classes and attending those Friday classes,” said Lewis.
She continued, “Sure, some students do party on Thursday nights but Friday and Saturday night are truly the big drinking nights here,” Lewis said.
The University scheduled 2,699 classes on Friday this year, a 10-class increase from last year, according to David Yeh, assistant vice president student and academic services.
Students who have few or no classes on Friday said they value the extra time.
“It does make me more inclined to go out on Thursday nights, I use Fridays to catch-up on sleep and get my work done,” said Laurie Josephson ’11, who has only one class on Friday this semester.
Oren Factor ’11, who has no Friday classes, said he does not go out on Thursday nights, but instead uses the time to get ahead on work.
“It enables me to go out on Friday and Saturday nights because I can get my work done early,” he said.
The issue of offering more Friday classes has garnered national attention. The New York Times and The Boston Globe have cited schools ranging from Syracuse to Duke to larger public universities and state schools, all of which have changed their class scheduling to combat this problem.
As early as four years ago, Clark University more than doubled the number of Friday classes it offers in order to reinforce the notion of a five-day academic week, said Prof. Douglas Little Ph.D. ’78, history, former dean of the College at Clark University.
He expressed that while the initiative has probably targeted some Thursday night partying, its main success has been creating “a better sense of academic community.”
Little recalled a time in the late 1970s when a popular class at Cornell met regularly on Saturdays while he was a graduate student doing teaching assistant work. He conceded, however, that Saturday classes at most schools today would be considered “extreme.”