While some administrators are ready to dive into their treasure trove of student survey data, others fear drowning in a sea of stats. Rest assured, using your institution’s survey data is not just for the ambitious practitioner, and you do not need to be an expert in data analysis to discover powerful insights. You need to think about your goals and narrow down your focus. For the moment, let’s assume we are creating a student survey or looking at student survey data and trying to determine a couple of ways to support and encourage responsible student drinking. After all, it is Alcohol Responsibility Month!

1. Healthy entertainment and social gatherings

Providing students with activities that are an alternative to drinking is a widely-adopted prevention strategy. Alcohol-free entertainment and social environments can steer students who drink away from high-risk alcohol use and provide a fun, safe environment for students who do not drink.

As many practitioners have learned from trial and error, it is better to refrain from calling this type of programming “alcohol-free” in marketing materials. To help come up with some creative names, recruit students to help design marketing messages that appeal to what students find fun. Determining exactly which students to target, and what type of events they’re interested in, can pose a challenge, which is why we recommend surveying students about their interest in participating in and planning these types of events – even collecting names and contact information so you can follow-up with students. Those students who voluntarily sign up to help plan and organize alcohol-free social events will want to hear from you!

Survey data can also help you avoid simply guessing what type of activities students are interested in. Include a survey question that asks students what types of events they are interested in attending and then follow-up with these students who have expressed interest in being contacted about alcohol-free events. Alcohol-free social activities support healthy student behaviors and contribute to a healthier norm on campus, which make them a great example of an environmental prevention approach. Check out our publication on Using Alcohol Free Options to Promote a Healthy Campus Environment.

2. Social norms

Speaking of healthy norms, another powerful piece of information you can glean from survey data is in the realm of social norms.

College students’ choices to drink or not, and how much to drink, are often strongly influenced by the degree to which they think their peers drink, which they almost always overestimate. If we can correct students’ misperceptions, then we can motivate students to reduce their drinking. There are a lot of ways to go about sharing accurate norms. It can be done in small groups of students, such a sorority or an athletic team, or it can be done on a larger scale through a website posting or marketing campaign. The most efficient way to reach students is through a campus-wide social norms marketing campaign. You should include survey questions to understand how much students are drinking and how much they perceive others to be drinking. The data below depicts actual survey results taken from AlcoholEdu. You will notice large discrepancies between what students report about their own drinking and students’ perception of how much their peers are drinking over a 30 day period.

If the majority of your students report drinking in a manner that is considered responsible and healthy, you are in a good position to create a social norms marketing campaign. If, however, your student drinking norms are not very healthy, do not scrap the idea of a social norms marketing campaign all together. Surveying students about how much they drink is only part of the picture. Other harm-reduction behaviors, like alternating between water and alcoholic drinks, can also be good fodder for a social norms campaign if you have a majority of students engaging in them. Given that April is Alcohol Responsibility Month – this is a good time to highlight your students’ responsible behaviors!

If you comb through your data and cannot find any responsible, healthy norms to share, then your campus is not prime for a social norms campaign. However, a good old-fashioned social marketing campaign can still be a good option. Social marketing messages may not only promote healthy alcohol-related behaviors, but also build support for or awareness of an alcohol policy or prevention initiative. For example, at Ohio University, a social marketing campaign called “Stop at the Buzz” not only educates students about the risks of high-risk drinking but also builds awareness of the university’s Medical Emergency Assistance program.

As campuses are surveying student now more than ever, it is understandable that administrators may feel like the campus is drowning in a sea of data, but we hope these two ideas can kick-start your data-driven prevention efforts this month.