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UI’s AlcoholEdu doesn’t track long-term success

BY ALLIE WRIGHT | SEPTEMBER 08, 2011 7:20 AM

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University of Iowa officials have no way of knowing whether the school’s alcohol education program, AlcoholEdu, has long-term effectiveness.

Though program administrators require all underage incoming students to complete a survey 45 days after they initially participate in the online course, that’s as far as the tracking goes.

And there are no plans to change the procedure, said Stephanie Beecher, a health educator for Health Iowa.

“It’s a difficult number to obtain,” she said of the possibility of tracking of graduating UI seniors who regularly binge drink.

And national experts are not sure if the intended results of AlcoholEDU to prevent underage students from participating in illegal drinking — although proven positive — will last.

The lack of surveying long-term may become even more curious with information from a recent study conducted by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. According to the report, programs such as AlcoholEdu may not even be effective beyond the participant’s first semester.

If incoming college freshmen take part in binge drinking from the get-go, they are more likely to keep up the trend, said Robert Saltz, a researcher at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation who contributed to the study.

“Freshman year, in some ways, is the most dangerous year,” he said.

For instance, the number of times a freshman drinks is not so significant as the amount he or she drinks, he said.

And that’s where AlcoholEDU — which costs the university $5.50 per student — comes in.

It’s important to target new UI students, said Kelly Bender, UI coordinator of Campus and Community Alcohol Harm Reduction Initiatives.

“We know that the first six weeks or so of college are a big transition time where a lot of students come in and engage in high risk drinking very quickly,” she said.

Despite little-to-no follow-up on the program, UI officials said they’re still confident students are retaining necessary alcohol information. Beecher said the average test scores jump nearly 30 percent from the pre-test to the post-test 45 days later.

AlcoholEDU not only educates the student about binge drinking and the risks of doing so, but tailors the results to each student’s personal drinking interests.

But the program is not the sole factor in the UI’s work to curb underage drinking.

The Alcohol Harm Reduction plan is a comprehensive plan set to work to diminish binge drinking rates among UI students.

And if this plan didn’t exist, officials said, students might have been more likely to spend more time intoxicated.

“If AlcoholEDU was all we did to address alcohol issues, it would probably be a waste of our time,” Bender said, noting that the program alone would produce short-term results but not long-term ones.


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