Academics and Drinking at Bucknell University

The general analysis shows that binge drinkers are more likely to miss classes and to fall behind in their school work. If students see these effects as a cost of drinking, one might suppose that eventually students would reduce their consumption in response. Students might not see missing class or falling behind as a problem, especially if the academic environment is permissive and grades are not adversely affected. The following statistics are intended to see if there are any discernible relationships between broad major, study hours, and drinking. If the raw statistics show wide differences by major, then further investigation may be warranted. **Take these statistics with a very large grain of salt; they are subject to considerable statistical error, because the full sample is quite small and when it is divided into several sub-groups, the number of students falling into each category is even smaller and therefore less reliable.

Drinking Habits by Major

Figure 1 shows the fraction of students consuming in each category of usual drinks in a sitting by major.

If we define binging narrowly as 6 or more drinking in a sitting, Undeclared (or student who did not report their majors) are the most likely to binge, followed by students in the engineering college and social science majors. The least likely to binge are natural science and humanities majors. If we take a broader definition, and include the 3-5 drinks per evening category, social science majors surpass engineering students. Natural science majors are the most likely to abstain, followed by humanities majors.

The frequency of drinking is also an important issue. Figure 1B shows the distribution of nights drinking in a typical week by major:

Social science majors are the most frequent drinkers, followed by engineering majors, humanities, and then natural science majors.

The differences may be due to the type of student that picks each major; figure 2 illustrates the choice of major, by the usual drinks per evening in high school.

Social science majors are disproportionately drawn from the group of the heaviest high school drinkers, defined as either 6 or more drinks or 3 or more drinks in a sitting. Students who abstained in high school are somewhat more likely to opt into engineering and the natural sciences. Social science majors are also more likely to report belonging to Greek organizations, which is also associated with higher consumption of alcohol. Some of the differences in current drinking may be explained by the "type" of students who choose each major.

Is Grade Inflation a Possible Explanation?

Differences in drinking habits by major may be attributable in part to the rigor of the academic program. The Economics 312 students in charge of this study suggested that missing class and falling behind in course work are not necessarily strong deterrents to drinking, because the ultimate consequences in terms of lower grade point averages are fairly mild. First, are students in different majors more or less likely to report missing class or falling behind? Figure 3 shows the proportions of students in each major who have missed class at least once during the semester and who have fallen behind in homework at least once.

Ignoring undeclared majors, social science majors are the most likely to report both problems, with engineering and humanities students splitting second place. The survey also collected information on study hours: figure 4 presents the distribution of study hours by major:

Engineering students study the most, followed by natural science majors. Most students in all majors study between 7 and 14 hours. Social science majors are the most likely to study less than 7 hours per week and the least likely to study 15 or more hours.

Compared to students nationally,

Are students penalized for missing classes, falling behind, and studying few hours? Figure 5 shows the distribution of grade point averages by major:

First, it is difficult to draw distinction across majors when universally, 75% or more of students have gpa's above 3.0, and 20% or more of students have gpa's above 3.5. Part of this result may reflect a sampling bias-more responsible students may have been more likely to return the surveys than their less studious counter parts. Another important caveat is that the classes that the students were taking the semester of the survey are unknown, but one would expect on average the course concentration to reflect the major.

Nevertheless, natural science majors were the least likely to miss class or to fall behind, and none of the natural science majors reported below a 2.5 gpa. Even though social science majors were the most likely (again ignoring undeclared majors) to report school problems, the gpas do not suffer greatly in comparison: perhaps a few students would have had 3.5 or above, but dropped to the 3.01-3.5 range. Fewer social science majors report gpa's between 2.0 and 2.5 than engineering or humanities majors, despite being more likely to fall behind and miss class.


While many factors influence students' decisions about whether and how much to drink, as faculty members we may directly affect only a few of those factors. The data do not provide incontrovertible evidence that students feel they can "get away" with drinking a lot and often because the academic environment at Bucknell is not stringent enough. National statistics and a larger sample may provide more and better evidence regarding whether increasing academic workloads can reduce the incidence of binge drinking at Bucknell, but the comparisons shown above suggest that we can do more in the classroom.

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