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October 16, 2003

Roommates who drink deflate GPAs

A scientific study has recently confirmed what Chicago first-years have known for ages: having a roommate who often hobbles home late and drunk to the gills does not do wonders for one's grades.

Researchers Michael Kremer, a professor at Harvard, and Dan Levy, a professor at Georgetown, surveyed 1,357 students at a large state university, investigating several factors that could have an influence on college students' grade point average. After reviewing roommates' high school grades, SAT scores, and socioeconomic background, among other factors, the researchers found that the only characteristic that had a significant impact on academic performance was whether or not a roommate drank during his senior year in high school.

Kremer and Levy found that non-drinking men who were paired with drinking roommates had GPAs one-quarter of a point below the average, while drinking males with drinking roommates had GPAs two-thirds of a point lower than the average. Among girls with drinking roommates there was no significant difference in grades, said Levy.

Levy said that he and Kremer were shocked that alcohol consumption was the only roommate characteristic that seemed to have an effect on one's grades.

"It's surprising in the sense that we were looking for ways that students influenced each other—most people would think that maybe a roommate's background, their prior academic record, or their socioeconomic class would have an impact on their performance," he said. "But we didn't find any of that; roommate drinking was the only thing we found that was related to the student's own academic performance."

The news does not come as a surprise to most students in the College, many of whom have seen the effects one roommate's alcohol consumption habits have had on the other.

Karlynn Holland, a second-year transfer student from the Pratt Institute in New York City, feels that her roommate's drinking habits at the beginning of her freshman year started to bring down her grades. "The first couple of weeks of school she would come home every night blacked-out drunk," Holland said. "It was a disturbance, but it was also a distraction; she was like ‘oh come on, let's go drink' and she was bringing it into the room, which cut back on the amount of the work I was doing," Holland said.

Once Holland's roommate cut back on her booze intake, Holland's academics rebounded. "My grades went up at least a half a point over the course of the year," she said.

Holland, whose non-drinking suitemate was paired with a heavy drinker, suffered even more dramatically. "She went downhill really fast," Holland said. "Her overall health—mentally, physically, and academically—just plummeted."

But not all students with hard-partying roommates suffer adverse consequences. Stephen Lucy, a second-year in the College, said that even though his roommate would often come home late, he wasn't much the worse for wear. "My roommate's habits didn't affect me much, either positively or negatively," said Lucy.

Kremer and Levy also found that the deleterious effects that one roommate's drinking habits can have on another continue even after the year they spend together. According to the study, the effects of having a drinking roommate the first year in college become even more pronounced during the second year, even though only 17 percent of first-year roommates choose to spend another year together.

The university that Kremer and Levy chose, which they were not able to disclose, was valuable to the study because it assigned roommates randomly through a housing lottery. "It's unlike most settings where people select who they live with, so that was a big advantage," said Levy.

The study could have several potential implications, said Levy, who believes that it could lead some colleges and universities to reconsider substance-free housing. "If you have a substance-free hall, you increase the possibility that two drinkers are living together [somewhere else], which is not good. From the point of overall GPA in the university, if you have a substance-free residence hall, it won't have a good effect," he said.

10-17-03drinking

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