Higher education and alcohol use have long been practically inseparable in American culture. With many students living on their own away from home for the first time, these young adults often have many opportunities for drinking. This association goes beyond the raucous partying portrayed in many films: Major health organizations have recognized college drinking as a serious issue,2 and 39.9% of Americans aged 18–25 with some college education have reported binge drinking at least once within the past month.3 Naturally, not all postsecondary institutions are alike, and each has its own particular culture and traditions. So just how prevalent are these hard-partying attitudes at colleges across America? Here at CollegeStats.org, we decided to find out…
Using location data attached to tweets about alcohol and drinking, we analyzed how often these tweets occurred in the areas surrounding thousands of colleges across the country. Because some schools are closer or farther away from bars, or may even have bars located on campus, these figures can vary substantially. By comparing the results to each college’s enrollment, we determined the relative frequency of discussions about drinking in the vicinity of a given school. We examined which small, midsized, and large colleges and universities talked the most about alcohol use, as well as how much drinking-related tweeting goes on at Ivy League and “wannabe Ivy League” institutions. Read on to find out which colleges rank first for discussion of drinking on campus on Twitter.
Drinking-Related Tweets at Small Institutions
First, we looked at smaller institutions: those with an enrollment ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 students. Counting tweets within 1.5 miles of the campus center, the University of South Florida (USF) St. Petersburg campus ranked first in this category with 0.1896 drinking-related tweets per enrolled student, or 1,000 such tweets in all. Students in the larger USF system reportedly engage in binge drinking less frequently than the national average. However, in recent years, USF has implemented a policy of amnesty for students seeking medical attention for alcohol- and drug-related emergencies in order to encourage getting emergency help without concern for the risk of prosecution.4 The St. Petersburg campus has even served specialty brews celebrating the campus’ 50th anniversary at its official community block party.5 Altogether, USF St. Petersburg recorded 78 disciplinary actions for on-campus liquor violations in 2014, the most recent year for which this dataset is available.1
Placing second is Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with 0.1458 alcohol-related tweets per student enrolled. This campus also noted 103 disciplinary actions for on-campus liquor violations in 2014.1 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) of Troy, New York ranks third with 0.1047 tweets per student. In 2011, Troy police planned to crack down on the alcohol-fueled misbehavior of RPI students in the surrounding neighborhoods, including noisy parties, public urination, and vandalism.6 And in 2009, drinking games such as beer pong were even linked to the spread of swine flu among students at RPI.7
What about small colleges that showed the lowest frequencies of drinking-related tweets? The University of Houston – Clear Lake was in last place with only one such tweet, compared to 9,998 students enrolled. This may simply reflect a low prevalence of drinking: Zero liquor violation arrests or disciplinary actions were recorded for the campus in 2014.1 That’s unlikely to be the case for second-last University of Mary, a private Catholic university located in Bismarck, North Dakota. Only one alcohol-related tweet was recorded compared to the college’s 5,062 students, and it’s easy to see why students may be reluctant to tweet about partying – 100 on-campus disciplinary actions for liquor law violations were recorded in 2014.1 The on-campus pub has stringent regulations, tracking each student’s alcohol consumption and allowing for only two glasses of beer or wine each night.8
Drinking-Related Tweets at Midsized Institutions
Next, we looked at midsized colleges with a student enrollment ranging from 10,000–15,000, counting alcohol-related tweets that were made within 3 miles of the campus center. These institutions showed some of the highest rates of drinking-related tweets out of all the colleges and universities we studied. Coming in first is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with 0.1977 drinking-related tweets per student, one of the highest frequencies we observed out of any institution. MIT has a somewhat lower number of recorded incidents of liquor-related infractions – 48 on-campus disciplinary actions in 20141 – and the university reformed many of its policies in the wake of an alcohol-related student death in 1997.9 However, there are signs that the college’s drinking culture is still a significant issue: As of 2014, a ban has been in place for large parties at MIT fraternities and sororities after a woman fell from a third-floor fraternity window in an alcohol-related incident.10
The Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia placed second in this category, with 0.1517 alcohol-related tweets per student, or 1,934 in total. In contrast to MIT, this school recorded 139 liquor-related on-campus disciplinary actions in 2014.1 This art college has been considered a “party school,”11 with police warning of the risk of alcohol-related sexual assaults12 and students noting the ease of finding parties: “Our school is super small so if one party gets shut down, it’s onto the next one.”13
Other midsized colleges were less talkative on Twitter about student alcohol use. Last-place University of Alaska Fairbanks had a mere 0.0003 alcohol-related tweets per student. Although few students at the Alaska college choose to talk openly about alcohol (only five alcohol-related tweets altogether), the college saw 33 on-campus liquor violation arrests in 2014 and 76 on-campus disciplinary actions.1
Drinking-Related Tweets at Large Institutions
We then examined the prevalence of alcohol-related tweets within 3 miles of some of the largest colleges: those with 15,000 or more students enrolled. In first place is the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, with 0.0486 drinking-related tweets per student – barely a quarter the rate of the first-place universities in the small and midsized categories. But make no mistake: Drinking at Chapel Hill is both frequent and problematic, according to DOE data. The university recorded 636 on-campus liquor-related disciplinary actions in 2014 as well as 35 on-campus arrests.1 Alcohol has been implicated in Chapel Hill students’ involvement in drunken driving, crashes, shootings, and deaths from accidental falls.14 A UNC dean of students noted: “It’s not an atypical experience over an extended weekend at Chapel Hill for there to be a student who is transported to UNC Hospitals or (for there to be) at least an apprehension of alcohol poisoning.” An estimated 30–35 UNC students participate in a college-focused alcohol recovery program.15
Last-place Saint Leo University illustrates the gap that can exist between talking about alcohol and the actual extent of alcohol use. At this private Catholic university, located in Florida, alcohol seems to be rarely discussed on Twitter. Despite having only three drinking-related tweets nearby – 0.0001 per student – the campus recorded 288 on-campus disciplinary actions for liquor law violations in 20141. However, third-place Utah Valley University shows a different pattern. Located in a state with a large population of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which discourages the use of alcohol, the Orem, Utah campus recorded only 3 arrests for on-campus liquor law violations in 2014, and 3 additional liquor-related disciplinary actions1. A similar religious influence may be at work for several schools among the bottom 10: Weber State University was founded by the LDS Church, Brigham Young University – Idaho is still affiliated with the church, and Liberty University is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
Drinking-Related Tweets at Ivy League Schools
The Ivy League colleges are nationally renowned both for their stellar academic and athletic reputations. But how do these eight prestigious schools rank in terms of alcohol-related tweets from campus? Among the Ivies, Brown University places first with 0.0879 drinking-related tweets per student. This far exceeds the frequency shown by UNC Chapel Hill, first among large colleges, but it still doesn’t even approach that of USF St. Petersburg or MIT. Last year, Brown University took the step of banning alcohol in fraternity parties and some residence halls due to reports of alcohol-related “nonconsensual sexual conduct” taking place at two fraternities.16
At the other end, Dartmouth College takes last place among the Ivies for alcohol-related tweets, with 0.002 per student and only 16 tweets being recorded. But this relative silence on Twitter doesn’t translate to a lack of drinking. Dartmouth reported 305 on-campus disciplinary actions for liquor violations in 2014 as well as 65 on-campus arrests.1 While this school is reputed for its alcohol-fueled partying, the college recently took drastic steps to curb these activities, banning any possession or consumption of hard liquor on campus.17
Drinking-Related Tweets at “Wannabe Ivy” Schools
Finally, we looked at the rankings of colleges and institutions that are widely considered to be nearly as prestigious as the Ivies – sometimes referred to as the “wannabe Ivy League.” These schools showed many different patterns of both alcohol-related tweets and recorded infractions. With more than 1.5 times the rate of tweets of MIT, Wesleyan University easily takes first place, as much for the sheer number of tweets recorded (1,059) as for the smaller number of students enrolled (3,542). This high frequency of tweets is reflected by campus safety records: 527 disciplinary actions occurred on-campus in 2014 for liquor law violations.1 While Wesleyan University participated in efforts to curb binge drinking in 200118 and 2011,19 the college also took a more unique approach in 2014: requiring fraternities to become coeducational and accept women as members.20
Not all aspiring-Ivies show such a high prevalence of drinking-related tweets. Duke University, a college of 17,575 students, recorded only 16 alcohol-related tweets, placing the school last among the wannabe-Ivies. But this very low rate of 0.0009 tweets per student doesn’t reflect what’s happening on campus: 346 recorded disciplinary actions for liquor violations in 2014.1 Excessive drinking has a long history at Duke – tailgate parties surrounding Duke football games would frequently spiral out of control; the celebration was finally shut down in 2010.21 Recently, Duke has taken action to address the issue of campus drinking, suspending all sorority activity when a member was hospitalized following an alcohol-related incident.22
Tracking Trends at Colleges and Universities
Alcohol use and the issues surrounding it are just one feature of college life and culture today. At CollegeStats.org, we offer a full range of cutting-edge analysis of historical and emerging trends in postsecondary education, incorporating data from a diverse array of sources. Look around and keep checking back to find out more fascinating facts we’ve discovered about colleges and universities across the nation.
We scraped tweets from 2014–2015 within a 1.5 mile radius of the center of small (enrollment of 5,000 to 10,000 students) four-year colleges and universities and a 3-mile radius of the center of midsized (10,000 to 15,000) and large (15,000+) institutions, searching for tweets including the keywords “drunk,” “drinking,” “alcohol,” “booze,” “beer,” or “wine.” Institutions which operate as almost exclusively virtual campuses were excluded. Each campus’s per capita tweet frequency was determined by dividing the number of relevant tweets found in the surrounding area by the number of enrolled students.