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Sociologist studies the impact of substance use on college graduation
Sociologist studies the impact of substance use on college graduation

This article originally appeared in UTSA Today by Ingrid Wright.


Ray SwisherJUNE 21, 2021 — Earning a college degree is one way to achieve social mobility. This is especially true for someone from a lower socioeconomic background looking to raise social status according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

However, there are barriers that can hinder a student’s path to complete a degree.

Recognizing the distinctive barriers that some first-generation students face, Raymond Swisher, professor and chair of the Department of Sociology at UTSA, looked at the link between the college party subculture and its negative impact on graduation rates among first-generation students.

Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health that followed thousands of adolesents from across the United States over several years, Swisher examined predictors of substance use among college students and its consequences for subsequent graduation with a four-year degree. The study revealed that a student’s socioeconomic background can protect against the consequences of substance use.

“One concerning aspect of college life and a potential challenge is the prevalence of substance use among college students,” Swisher stated. “Substance abuse has hindered graduation rates and led many universities to reconsider the impact that the party subculture has on student wellbeing.”

Recent qualitative research suggests that substance use may be particularly detrimental for first-generation students. As the first in their family to earn a college degree, the path to graduation is often made more difficult by circumstances such as working long hours and living with parents, as well as an unfamiliar college environment.

Swisher’s research showed that continuing-generation students (those whose parents also have college degrees) are more likely to engage in substance use—most notably binge drinking and marijuana use—than first-generation students.

Such behavior, however, was more likely to negatively impact the graduation rates of first-generation students, who face additonal stressors unlike their peers. For more advantaged continuing-generation students, the party subculture had less of an effect on their graduation prospects.

“Engaging in the campus party subculture is potentially risky for all youth,” Swisher said. “At the same time, it likely reflects a desire for a sense of belonging among one’s peers.”

To address this issue, Swisher suggests that universities should not ignore this desire for social integration, and consider alternative ways to provide students opportunities to make connections with each other that do not carry the risks of substance use.

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