James Madison University

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JMU Participates in Alcohol-Edu Project

By: Jordan Pye
Posted: November 10, 2009

In 2007, JMU agreed to participate in a two-year national research project conducted by the Pacific Institute for Research in Education (PIRE), an independent nonprofit health organization. Funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, PIRE gave JMU a grant that included free access to the AlcoholEdu program and $1000 to implement it, which was spent on giveaways for students as an incentive for participation.

AlcoholEdu is the product of Outside the Classroom, a private Boston company founded in part to help education institutions address the problem of high-risk drinking through science-based prevention programs, which have been used by over 450 colleges and high schools nationwide since 2000. The program’s online format promises “population-level prevention” by educating student groups – whether they are moderate, heavy, or non-drinkers - to change an entire campus’ attitude towards drinking.

The interactive program, which takes about three hours to complete, works to motivate students to change their drinking behavior and make safer decisions by correcting unrealistic expectations about alcohol’s effects on the body, as well as on academic and personal success. Participants complete three surveys throughout the session, which provides the school with data to show the students’ increase in knowledge and reduction in negative drinking behavior.

In the fall of 2008 and 2009, JMU sent bulk email invitations to all incoming freshman asking them to participate in AlcoholEdu, which “would empower them to make well‐informed decisions about alcohol and help them better cope with the drinking behavior of their peers.” Although completion was not mandatory for freshman and would not meet any general education requirements, the email’s tone contained an “implied mandate” telling students they were expected to complete both sections of the program and achieve passing scores of at least 75% on the final assessments. This ensured a wide subject base, and that all freshmen would have the opportunity to receive the information.

“We really based it on a common experience for first-year students to be able to engage in the conversation, to hopefully listen and read and take to heart what the information is about and translate that to their behaviors, but there was not a mandate on it,” Dr. Jeanne M. Martino-McAllister said. In 2007 she worked in the Department of Health Sciences and was director of the Office of Substance Abuse Research, and coordinated the AlcoholEdu program for JMU.

JMU finished implementing the AlcoholEdu program with the current freshman class, but 200 randomly-selected freshmen will continue to be part of the research project that will follow through until fall of 2011. In 2008 the study had 3,068 freshmen that completed the program, and the 2009 study had 2,869 completers.

“What we know is we have a very high percentage rate compared to many of the other institutions that participated, so we were very pleased,” Martino-McAllister said. “So what that tells me about our JMU first-year students is that they are very compliant with this kind of a program.”

The data gathered from the first year showed that knowledge of alcohol effects and safety increased overall from the initial assessment survey to the end, as did students’ enthusiasm for the program. In the study’s results, drinkers reported a prevalence of risky behaviors such as chugging and taking shots, and 13 percent said they had suffered a hangover as a negative consequence of drinking. Out of 3129 responses at the end of the course, 54 percent of students said they intended to reduce the number of drinks they have, and 51 percent said they planned to reduce the number of times they drink per week. Both drinkers and nondrinkers said that “getting in trouble with authorities” was their most important reason for not drinking, and 62 percent overall expressed an interest in involvement with campus prevention activities like attending alcohol-free events and further developing the school’s alcohol policy.

Martino-McAllister has not done any independent follow-up surveys to gauge students’ reactions to the AlcoholEdu experience, but would like to incorporate some form of the program into the larger scheme of JMU’s Office of Substance Abuse Prevention at JMU.

“In the big picture, it has always been the vision of the Substance Abuse Prevention people at JMU to have our own customized online program, so we’d use more JMU-specific data and examples, with the Duke Dog woven throughout,” Martino-McAllister said. “When we were invited to participate we thought it would be a good pilot experience to see how students responded to it, and to kind of understand the mechanics of it, and we’ve had such great participation for our first-year students that I do think there will be some continuation of a first-year program, [but] we don’t know yet if it’s going to be AlcoholEdu.”