The University of Iowa has dropped off one of the most publicized rankings in American higher education, and school leaders are glad about it.
For the first time in years, the UI is not among the top 20 American party schools, as ranked by Princeton Review. That’s a sign of positive changes on the Iowa City campus, the result of years of coordinated effort by many university and community leaders.
The UI peaked at No. 1 party school in the nation in 2013, much to university administrators’ dismay. The school has since spent several more years in the top 10. As much as some students and alumni relished the recognition, it was not a flattering reflection of UI’s strong academic mission.
University officials have long quibbled with Princeton Review’s party school rankings, which they say are unscientific. The list is based on student surveys, but not necessarily representative samples of the student body. However, the drop within the rankings coincides with positive progress on several of UI’s own student health metrics.
The UI participates in the National College Health Assessment, an independent research project based on a broader range of student surveys. The 2018 report showed students participating in high-risk drinking — measured as having five or more drinks on one occasion in the preceding two weeks — declined from 59 to 50 percent over the last five years. The level is now just 1 percentage point away from the university’s 2019 goal.
The portion of students who consumed alcohol in the past 30 days dipped from a peak of 89 percent in 1999 to just 75 percent last year. That represents incremental but important progress, putting UI more closely in line with average public universities.
No doubt health concerns remain among the student body, but study figures clearly show risky drinking behavior has declined, and that’s no accident.
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Since 2010, the UI has published periodic alcohol harm reduction plans, describing the institution’s strategy for diminishing the dangerous drinking culture on campus.
The university’s tool kit for achieving those goals includes offering more evening and weekend activities, increasing access to mental health resources, restricting fraternity and sorority activities, and emphasizing healthy choices to prospective students and their parents.
Importantly, UI officials have emphasized a harm reduction approach to drugs and alcohol, rather than a purely prohibitionist pursuit. Recognizing they could never eliminate alcohol from the undergraduate student experience on a Big Ten campus, they have instead focused on reducing the most risky drinking behaviors.
Like it or not, drinking is a not insignificant part of the Hawkeye tradition, and that’s unlikely to change, no matter what policies the city or university put in place. But there is no justification for the risky behaviors that earned the UI a spot atop the list of top party schools five years ago. University and city leaders deserve credit for their positive progress.
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