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Whoops! BYU mistakenly ranked healthiest; real No. 1 little surprise

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 30 2013 11:45 a.m. MDT

Three BYU-Idaho students pose for a picture after devotional as swarms of people walk past on Sept. 29, 2009.

Doug McKay, Deseret News archives

PROVO — The Daily Beast released a slide show on its website this week ranking the 20 healthiest colleges and universities in the nation. BYU was listed No. 1.

Hold on there, Beast.

By your criteria, BYU should be No. 2. Or better yet, No. 1 and No. 2, because the true top school doesn't fall far from the BYU tree.

The Daily Beast based its rankings on surveys of students about their own campuses collected by CollegeProwler.com. Rankings based on student perceptions aren't unusual. BYU has been ranked the top stone-cold sober university in the nation for 16 straight years by the Princeton Review based on student surveys about their own schools, and while the methodology has clear limitations, parents and high schools students regularly pay to see these unvarnished opinions from current college students.

The Daily Beast added up the average survey scores from three CollegeProwler.com lists to create its rankings:

Best schools for non-drinkers (BYU was No. 1 with a perfect 10)

Most drug-free campuses (BYU was tops with a perfect 10 again)

Healthiest dining options (BYU was 748th at 7.72 out of 10)

The Daily Beast missed a school that scored better. The mystery school finished second to BYU on the non-drinkers list with 9.85 out of 10 and second for drug-free at 9.94. It outperformed BYU in healthiest dining options with an 8.41 out of 10.

Add it up and BYU-Idaho comes in first with 28.2 points. Its Provo, Utah, sister school drops to second at 27.7. Biola University in La Mirada, Calif., falls from second to third at 27.5.

Enrollment isn't the reason BYU-I didn't make the rankings. Biola had a total campus enrollment of 6,302 last fall. BYU-Idaho's total enrollment that same term was 16,262.

But focusing on the missing school misses the larger context about what the Daily Beast rankings say about about health in a college setting.

College drinking is such a massive health risk it keeps university administrators up at night. Ten years ago, more than 80 percent of college presidents considered alcohol a problem on their campuses, targeted alcohol education at freshmen and banned it from some dorms and athletic events, according to the Journal of American Health.

Today, little has changed, as 40 percent of college students engage in high-risk drinking and an estimated 1,800 college students die each year from alcohol-related incidents, according to the National College Health Improvement Program. That program was launched by the new head of the World Bank before he left his post as the president of Dartmouth, where the U.S. Department of Education is investigating civil rights complaints of sexual harassment related to drinking.

The program's website includes a large slide that says "research has linked alcohol abuse on campus with poor academic performance, personal injuries and sexual assault."

The program's first initiative was to create the Learning Collaborative on High-risk Drinking, which has 32 members, from Duke and Stanford to Princeton and Yale, committed "to gathering evidence and measuring outcomes — and to sharing ideas that work."

The New York Times story this month about Dartmouth's troubles with drinking and sexual assault stated "there is drinking at all colleges," but the Daily Beast rankings highlight the campus health advantages of religiously affiliated schools that restrict drinking.

The first 12 schools in the rankings — 13 if BYU-Idaho is included — are religiously affiliated. Of the top 20, the only state schools are the University of Texas-Pan American and the University of Houston-Downtown.

The Huffington Post wrote about the rankings, too, and noticed the predominance of Christian schools with dry student bodies in the top 20. The anonymous author editorialized that "it only makes sense that cutting out the alcohol will make you a bit healthier."

The third BYU campus in the LDS Church Educational System, BYU-Hawaii, illustrated both of the things that happened with these rankings.

First, the Daily Beast also left BYU-Hawaii out of its top 20, even though BYU-Hawaii had the exact number of points — 25.22 — as Dallas Baptist, which ranked 17th. (BYU-Hawaii was seventh on CollegeProwler.com's drug-free campus list and 10th on the non-drinkers list.)

Second, BYU-Hawaii also is sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and its students commit, as do those at BYU and BYU-Idaho, to an honor code that states they will "abstain from alcoholic beverages, tobacco, tea, coffee, and substance abuse."

Biola, an evangelical Christian university that trailed only BYU and BYU-Idaho in the rankings, has a code similar to BYU's, according to its website:

"The use, possession or distribution of alcoholic beverages, illicit drugs, or other controlled substances (including misuse of prescribed medications or use of any substance with the intent of becoming impaired/intoxicated) by students of Biola is prohibited and violates this policy as well as the university’s standard of conduct," because "The use or abuse of alcohol and other drugs/substances could increase the risk for a number of health related and other medical, behavioral, and social problems."

"Students violating this policy," Biola's policy continues, "are subject to disciplinary sanctions including but not limited to: substance abuse education programs, research papers, restitution, community service, fines, removal from housing, ban from residential housing, or dismissal from the university in accordance with university policies and procedures."

However, as of last month Biola no longer requires graduate students to abstain from alcohol and tobacco.

Utah State University led the other Utah schools, scoring 24.74 points. Southern Utah University scored 24.02 points, Weber State University 23.82, the University of Utah 21.94 and Westminster College 21.06.

The biggest difference for the U. and Westminster was the lower scores their students gave them as "best schools for non-drinkers." The U. scored an average of 6.48 out of 10 for 780th place. Westminster scored 6.29.

Utah Valley University wasn't searchable on the CollegeProwler.com lists.

Southern Virginia University, a private liberal arts college that embraces LDS values with a code of honor through which students pledge not to drink or use drugs, scored 24.13 points based on the student perception surveys.

Email: twalch@deseretnews.com

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