Widgets Magazine

University-conducted AlcoholEdu survey results lead to extended program funding

(File/The Stanford Daily)

The University this summer announced it would fund AlcoholEdu for four more years, citing survey results about the program “that suggest it works at Stanford.” Now, administrators are explaining the methodology behind their survey, whose results are part of a package Stanford presents to the county to keep its exemption from a local alcohol ordinance.

Stanford’s decision to continue funding for AlcoholEdu came after reporting in July that 71 percent of students surveyed rated AlcoholEdu as “somewhat to very effective” in educating them about college alcohol issues and 77 percent said they learned something useful about alcohol from the program. AlcoholEdu is the online-based alcohol education program introduced in 2006 and required of all incoming freshmen at Stanford.

The Substance Abuse Prevention and Policy Office constructed the survey, said manager Ralph Castro. Psychiatry faculty and Undergraduate Advising and Research staff “vetted” the survey, he said.

Stanford sent the survey to each class during the spring of the academic year the class completed AlcoholEdu, Castro said. In four years, 1,685 students completed the survey, a response rate of approximately 27 to 33 percent.

The University had a material stake in the outcome. In January, the University cited the success of AlcoholEdu and other education measures when it gained exemption from Santa Clara County’s “social host” drinking ordinance. The rule allows the county to fine property owners and those responsible for hosting underage drinking gatherings up to $700. Stanford’s exemption came under the stipulation that it continue its historically intensive efforts to prevent unsafe and underage drinking and regularly report the results to the county.

Castro said the county is aware that Stanford uses AlcoholEdu, but that the program is only one piece of much larger alcohol education and safety efforts on campus. “We continue to strive to have a cutting edge, empirically based alcohol and drug education and early intervention program at Stanford,” Castro wrote in an e-mail to The Daily. “Our main goal is to educate students to think critically and make healthy, responsible and safe decisions.”

Meanwhile, students’ responses to the survey were mixed. According to Castro, only 22 percent of responding students reported having a constructive conversation about the program, while 63 percent reported engaging in a negative conversation about the program, a finding Castro called “surprising.” He said he hopes to challenge students’ negative perceptions of the program and encourage them to discuss its merits as well as its negative aspects.

Esther Vigil ’14, who is currently participating in AlcoholEdu’s online tutorial, said she thinks the program will have a minimal effect on students’ partying and drinking habits. Vigil values AlcoholEdu as a way of opening discussions about partying safely, but thinks the program doesn’t create values, only reinforces them.

“Depending on how much attention we paid to the presentation, we’re all better informed,” Vigil wrote in an e-mail to The Daily. “When it comes to how we drink, however, our decisions are influenced by the atmosphere we’re in and the experience we’ve had with alcohol and partying in the past immensely more than by the two hours we spent trying to multi-task while the computer showed us animated figures in different states of inebriation.”

Matt Wong ’11, who took AlcoholEdu before his freshman year at Stanford and was a staff member in freshman dorm Larkin last year, says students who come to college with varying experiences with alcohol will experiment and find their own limits, regardless of any structured alcohol education.

“Having honest role models in a dorm can provide a more honest and useful view of alcohol use on campus,” Wong said. “With that said, additional information about alcohol safety can’t ever hurt.”