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  • DUI Arrests and Academic Attrition
  • Kevin M. Thompson (bio) and Katie Richardson (bio)

A sobering 2002 study reported that over 2 million college students drove under the influence of alcohol (DUI) in 1999 (Hingson, Heeren, Zakocs, Kopstein, & Wechsler, 2002). Among those driving while intoxicated, approximately 1.7% or roughly 34,000 students reported being arrested on DUI charges (Engs, 1977; Presley, Meilman, & Cashin, 1996). Regrettably, a significant proportion of the 1,400 college student deaths and 500,000 injuries are implicated in these drunk driving statistics (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2002).

Even as deaths and injuries from drinking and driving have captured the attention of university officials, special interests, and the public (Thompson, Deneen, Bierck, Locher, & Tower, 1998; National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2005), one consequence of drunk driving has gone unnoticed. Little has been written about the possible impact of a DUI arrest on college student attrition. Nevertheless, retention issues have created concern among university and college presidents who may be worried about lost tuition revenue (Anderson, 1992; "U.S. Colleges Falling Short," 2004). This concern is justified by research indicating that 28% of students entering a 4-year institution leave at the end of their first year (Tinto, 1993), and that only 45% of students complete a bachelor's degree within 6 years (Astin, Tsui, & Avalos, 1996). Because only about 15% of students leave an institution due to academic issues (Cambiano, Denny, & DeVore, 2000; Kalsner, 1991), it is important to identify correlates of attrition external to academic factors. Bean's (1980) student attrition model has prompted researchers and administrators to consider external causes as sources of attrition. Bean's model borrows concepts from attrition theory in the industrial sector by focusing on environmental pull factors. In Bean's model, reasons for leaving the institution have less to do with internal factors and more to do with external forces such as financial debt or family transitions. One external source of institutional departure could be a DUI arrest. Research has shown that high risk drinkers report greater academic impairment than lower risk drinkers or abstainers (Engs, Diebold, & Hanson, 1996; Perkins, 1992; Presley et al., 1996). Drinking-related academic difficulties have been noted in ethnically and geographically diverse college environments (Werch, Gorman, & Marty, 1987) and in 2-year and 4-year institutions (Presley et al.). Whether these drinking-related academic problems include departure from the institution, is unknown. This research assesses college attrition rates at 1 year and 3 years among (a) students arrested for a DUI, (b) students cited for an alcohol-related legal infraction, and (c) non-arrested/non-cited students.

A DUI arrest could affect attrition in multiple ways. By absorbing significant costs, a DUI arrest can reduce the affordability of college. DUI arrestees may face costs ranging anywhere between $5,000 to $20,000 (Illinois Secretary of State, 2006). These costs can include fines and court fees, bond posting, attorney fees, licensing reissue fee, cost of an [End Page 497] ignition interlock device, and a doubling or more of insurance premiums ("Drunk Driving," 2004). Costs associated with seeking treatment, vehicle towing, and electronic home monitoring heap greater financial burden on the arrestee.

A DUI arrest can also be traumatizing for students. Some have contended that a DUI arrest criminalizes the arrestee thereby contributing to negative mental health symptoms (Robins & Regier, 1991). These mental health states can impair study habits and academic concentration (Hirschfield, Maschi, White, & Loeber, 2006).

Finally, one in five heavy, episodic drinkers may be alcohol dependent (Knight et al., 2002) and therefore lose control of and interest in their academic pursuits. Engs and colleagues' (1996) research revealed that about half of all heavy, weekly drinkers drove while drunk in the past year, thereby increasing the likelihood of a DUI arrest. Survey research from our own institution indicates that heavy drinkers (those scoring more than two standard deviations above the weekly drinking mean) were 1.8 and 6.5 times more likely to report being arrested for a DUI than moderate or light drinkers, respectively (Core Institute, 2006).

Because high risk drinking co-varies with subgroup populations (Perkins, 2002), some groups may experience higher odds of a DUI arrest, thereby increasing their academic...


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