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Risky behavior affects academic performance, study says
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Boynton Health Services is presenting findings of a study showing a relationship at the University of Minnesota between risky behavior and lower GPA. (University of Minnesota)
New information from the University of Minnesota's student health survey indicates that risky behavior can significantly lower a student's academic performance.

St. Paul, Minn. — Chances are if you're an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota, you're a lot like other 18-to-24 year olds in the state. You party a little, you might drink and smoke, maybe you've tried some drugs, like marijuana.

But for students who take such risky behavior to a higher level, beware.

Boynton Health Service Director Ed Ehlinger has data showing a correlation between risky behavior and a drop in grade point average (GPA). But Ehlinger says while they found the link, they didn't pinpoint what exactly causes the academic drop.

"There's probably that connection between alcohol use, tobacco use, different, other lifestyle choices that they make so there is that connection with grades. But I can't say that smoking does anything necessarily to your brain that lowers your I.Q. It's just an association that we found," he says.

Among the most striking data from Boynton's 2004 student health survey is that from marijuana users. The average GPA for non-users is 3.5, compared to 3.01 with students who use marijuana at least 10 times a month.

Though the numerical difference might not seem significant, it is. It's the difference between a solid B+ and a B.

Oge Alozie, a graduate student in the School of Public Health and a student liaison with the Boynton Health Service, says drinking, smoking, and other risky behaviors among students typically come from peer pressure, and being in an environment where there's less parental guidance.

"You also get into a lifestyle whereby it's just accepted, that you go out on weekends. And what do you do to relax? You go to the bar. You go to Sally's, or you go to a party, and there's alcohol there," Alozie says.

Alozie says though alcohol and drugs are always a concern, he thinks U of M students are about average for American college students.

The survey highlights another risky behavior that Alozie admits falling victim to. It is perhaps the most risky behavior taken up among University of Minnesota students.

"Credit card is huge," he says. "Of all the things, really, if they were to say 'let's start focusing on something else,' I would say, it's credit cards."

Boynton survey data shows 78 percent of U of M Twin Cities campus students have at least one credit card. And nearly 30 percent of fifth-year students report having excessive credit card debt. Survey data also shows as grade point average decreases, the percentage of students who have credit card debt greater than $1,000 a month increases.

Alozie says he has about $5,000 dollars worth of credit card debt he's struggling to pay off.

"If you don't have cash, you kind of fall back on your credit card, feeling that 'what the hell, I'll pay 30, 50 bucks a month,' but whenever interest rates change and the rest, you get stuck with that," he says.

Like most students, Alozie says he has relied on credit to pay for groceries, gas and other daily expenses.

Credit counselor Darryl Dahlheim says students fall prey to the "magical money" offered by credit card companies.

"College students are the yummiest customer they could ever imagine," according to Dahlheim. "First of all, they want to brand them for life, knowing that once they start with a particular company, they might very well keep that debt for 10 years or 20 years. Secondly, college students are great cause even though they don't have much money, most college students have some connection with parents or family who will bail them out if they do rack up a lot of charges."

University administrators recognized the severity of the credit card debt abuse problem a few years ago, and have taken measures to reduce the temptation. For instance, the university no longer allows credit card companies to solicit cardholders on campus. And the university does not allow students to pay their tuition with a credit card.

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