A Matter of Degree: Reducing High-Risk Drinking Among College Students

An RWJF National Program

Field of Work: Curbing college binge drinking through an environmental approach that seeks to change the factors that influence young people to drink excessively, such as easy access to inexpensive alcohol and the failure to penalize underage and high-risk drinking.

Problem Synopsis: In 1990, college presidents classified alcohol abuse as the campus life issue of greatest concern, according to a Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching survey, "Campus Life: In Search of Community." Concerns about college drinking escalated in the 1990s in response to the persistence of heavy episodic or "binge" drinking and heightened awareness of date rape and serious injury and death due to alcohol-related accidents.

Synopsis of the Work: In 1995, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) launched a national program, A Matter of Degree: Reducing High-Risk Drinking Among College Students. The program, managed by American Medical Association (AMA), funded 10 universities between 1996 and 2008 to address this problem.

Key Results: The AMA decided to include alcohol consumption as one of four key health behaviors addressed by its Healthier Life Steps™ Program. It also wrote and passed a series of alcohol control policies, including a policy banning alcohol industry sponsorship of events on college campuses.

Key Findings

  • Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health conducted a multiyear evaluation of A Matter of Degree. Among the findings are that by mid program, 2001:

    • Five "high environment" sites had implemented considerably more interventions—and more interventions that addressed the environment—than five "low environment" sites.
    • The high environment sites experienced significant declines in many measures of alcohol consumption (such as binge drinking), alcohol-related harms (such as falling behind in school) and alcohol-related secondhand effects (such as vandalism).