Top Party Schools of 2009 Encourage Risky Drinking

Princeton Review has recently released its 2010 edition of The Best 371 Colleges, ranking American colleges and universities by almost every criterion possible, from knowledgeable professors to quality of dorm food. But despite the fact that nearly seventy lists are included in the guide, there is one list in particular that has students, parents, and college officials across the country talking: Party Schools, which ranks the top 20 party schools of 2009.

According to Princeton Review, the party schools are determined based on a combination of survey questions [posed to students] concerning the use of alcohol and drugs, hours of study each day, and the popularity of the Greek system. This year, Penn State topped the list, with the University of Florida and the University of Mississippi coming in second and third, respectively. Other drug- and alcohol-related lists in The Best 371 Colleges include Lots of Beer, Lots of Hard Liquor, and Reefer Madness.

While school officials aim for prestige, college kids responses to the rankings show that many students aspire to make the Party Schools list. From Facebook status updates to school newspaper articles, college students across the country have been expressing pride for being ranked and disgust at not receiving a Party School title. I’m really confused that UA isn’t at least on the list, senior Sarah Kramm told the Crimson White, the University of Alabama’s official newspaper. Its like every night Ill get texts and calls about all these different parties. Not to mention all of our bars are normally packed. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

Can Princeton Reviews ratings pose a threat to college kids? Absolutely, writes Richard Yoast, Ph.D., director of the American Medical Association (AMA)s Office of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drug Abuse Prevention. The AMA, claiming that the party list legitimiz[es] high-risk drinking, has been lobbying Princeton Review for years to cease publishing this particular report. Yoast has been quoted as saying, The Princeton Review should be ashamed to publish something for students and parents that fuels the false notion that alcohol is central to the college experience.

Furthermore, a new study published in the Cochrane Library shows that college kids tend to drink as much as they believe their peers do but they often overestimate how much alcohol their fellow students consume. When a list such as Party Schools or Lots of Beer is published, it may inflate expectations by incoming students that this is a big-time drinking school, explains Ken Winters, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Minnesota Medical School and a Senior Scientist at Treatment Research Institute. And having this type of perceived norm for drinking can encourage some individuals to drink more than if they held a more conservative view of the drinking norm at that school.

“These rankings are not more than popularity contests,” Annemarie Mountz, spokesperson for number-one-rated Penn State, has said, noting that less than 1 percent of her universities students participated in the Princeton Review survey, and that those who did participate were encouraged by their peers to boost Penn States partying reputation. [The lists are] not connected to reality.”

So what if your kids are enrolled in the colleges on this year’s list? Dr. Winters suggests parents tell their kids the following: “Be smart. We don’t want you to make the list for ‘We Are Disappointed In You or ‘School Expulsion.”

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