College students make for an intriguing bunch to consider. Essentially living on a compound, surrounded by their peers in a halfway house between forced maturity in the real world and marginal responsibility in a campus bubble, college students often get away with behaviors that startle many researchers. While binge drinking, poor diets and little-to-no sleep could wreck the life of a middle-aged man, some college students are able to bounce back after a night involving all three and ace an exam in the morning. Others aren’t so lucky and suffer bad grades, nights in the hospital or even sexual or physical abuse as a result. Through these research studies, doctors and scientists examine all kinds of psychological factors, behaviors and environmental issues affecting college students, helping higher ed set new guidelines for safer, better campuses.
- Facebook might lead to lower grades: Facebook — which started as a networking site exclusively for college students — gets a bad rap for Big Brother-like monitoring, tempting young people to sabotage their career prospects by posting scandalous photos, and for being a total time waster, and now it may be a scapegoat for bad grades, too. A study organized by graduate students at Ohio State University and Ohio Dominican University found that, while the majority of Facebook users didn’t think logging onto the site hurt grades, students who participated in the study and did use Facebook had GPAs of .5 – 1.0 points lower than those who didn’t. Students who did not have a Facebook account maintained GPAs of 3.5-4.0. The biggest identifying factor in lower grades and poor academic habits was noted in terms of time spent studying: Facebook users only studied one to five hours per week, while those not on Facebook studied 11 to 15 hours per week. Undergraduates and graduate students were studied, but significantly less graduate students had Facebook accounts.
- Online students perform better than students in a classroom: The New York Times reported in August 2009 the findings of a study conducted by SRI International on behalf of the Department of Education on the success of online students versus students who attended classes in an actual classroom. For 12 years, in K-12 settings and in colleges and adult continuing-education programs, researchers found that students with at least some online instruction generally performed in the 59th percentile, while those with no online learning scored in the 50th percentile. Researchers believe that the technology may not be the defining factor in the separation: the independent and customized learning programs that online learning tends to emphasize probably made the difference.
- College students are less empathetic: This study garnered lots of media attention when it was released in 2010: college students are less empathetic than students were 30 years ago. Scientific American pointed to the study as a kind of proof for backing the "Generation Me" epidemic that has spread thanks to social media sites, which allow people to feel more disconnected to actual circumstances and people’s feelings. The 30-year study was presented at the Association for Psychological Science, and scientists found that levels of empathy had declined about 40% over the entire time period, with the most dramatic drop occurring in the last nine years.
- Cyberbullying in college: Parents and kids across the country have seen a spike in bullying cases and cyberbullying episodes, but college students living on campus aren’t removed from the problem, either. Baylor University doctoral student Ikuko Aoyama conducted a study on sex differences in cyberbullying and bullying at the college level. Ikuko proposed that since so many middle and high schoolers participate in bullying — even as victims bullying back, a trend made easier thanks to social media and virtual websites — they will continue their behavior in college.
- Women are underrepresented in academia: This 2004 study was actually the first ever "comprehensive national analysis of college faculty positions held by female and minority males at the nation’s top math, science and engineering departments," which makes the findings of the study less surprising. It seems that women and minorities weren’t even given enough attention or support to answer claims of prejudice or unfairness in hiring practices until the study was conducted. Led by University of Oklahoma chemistry professor Dr. Donna Nelson, the study concluded that between 3 and 15% of full professors at the nation’s top engineering and science departments were women. While the number of women who have been pursuing doctorate degrees in the last 20 years has increased dramatically, they’re not being rewarded with the top jobs in academia.
- Alcohol-Related Mortality and Morbidity: Alcohol has been a big problem for campuses, students, public health campaigns, and the higher education system in general, but a study conducted between 1998-2005 revealed some scary statistics about how deadly alcohol can be for college students. Conducted by doctors and scientists at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the study found that alcohol-related unintentional injury deaths increased for the college set (ages 18-24) 3% per 100,000 from 1998-2005. Driving under the influence of alcohol increased between 7 and 9% proportionally, and between 1999-2005; the students who admitted drinking five or more drinks on one occasion within the last month increased from 41.7% to 44.7%. By age group, most increases occurred within the 21-24 set, within the legal drinking age.
- STDs are most common college student threat: After some of the previous research studies we listed, you might think that bullying, binge drinking, or drinking and driving are the biggest threats to college students, but in fact, it’s STDs. A 2005 study conducted by Scholly, Katz, Gascoigne and Holck followed undergraduate students at four American universities. They found that 80% of the students they followed "had at least one sexual partner during the preceding year." Because another study — conducted by the department of Health Sciences at Columbia University — found that 20-25% of college students around the U.S. have or have transmitted an STD, the findings from Scholly, Katz, Gascoigne and Holck’s research are especially worrisome. If 80% of students are having sex, and nearly a quarter of them have STDs, you can imagine how fast HPV and chlamydia are spreading.
- Students are more narcisstic: College students aren’t just less empathetic, they’re also way more full of themselves, this study found. San Diego State University Professor Jean Twenge led the study asked over 16,000 college students to fill out evaluations between 1982 and 2006. The forms, called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, found steady increases in the responses of students, but by 2006, "two-thirds of the students had above-average scores," meaning they responded very positively to statements like, "I think I am a special person." Credited culprits? Professors named everything from social media and YouTube to the popular nursery rhyme, "Frere Jacques."
- Students don’t think binge drinking is a problem: While researchers found in one of our previously listed studies that more college students are binge drinking today, this study found that students don’t seem to get why it’s an issue. With participation and support from The Century Council and the Ad Council, researchers discovered that college students don’t "buy into the commonly used five drink/four drink definition" or even the idea of binge drinking, reports CampusSafetyMagazine.com. Students don’t tend to count standard drinks, either, and don’t respond to scare tactics or even peer messages in advertising: bad news for the councils that want to create effective campaigns to lower drinking levels.
- Students estimate that they drink more than they really do: Another alcohol-related study actually found that students estimate that they drink more than they really do, or at least come closer to the actual amount than researchers previously gave them credit for. While some of the findings from the previous study seem to hold true here — that students don’t count standard drinks and generally pour drinks that "are way too big" — this 2005 study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research discovered that students correctly estimated their BAC, which was then taken by breathalyzer for an exact calculation. One hundred four males and forty-eight females participated in the study, proving to researchers that college students are pretty good at understanding just how drunk they really are, no matter how many drinks — or drinks-and-a-half — they’ve had.
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