Data Gap Spurs Development of Collegiate Survey in Arkansas

July 12, 2023

Darla J. Kelsay, Certified Prevention Consultant

Substance Abuse Prevention Coordinator, UA Little Rock, MidSOUTH

To implement successful programs, prevention planners need reliable data to guide their work. When the Arkansas Epidemiological Outcomes Workgroup (SEOW) recognized a statewide deficiency of data on college students, they turned to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Survey Research Center to develop a survey instrument that would address the gap and gather data on the collegiate population - a demographic commonly known for binge drinking and one that may present a high risk for first-time illicit drug use. As a result, the first Arkansas Collegiate Substance Use Assessment (ACSUA) was launched in August 2021.

The web-based survey collected self-reported information on college students’ substance use, the behaviors and consequences related to use, and students’ perceptions of substance use on college campuses.

“The importance of the data and the lack of other data for this population made it really intriguing”, said Dr. Derek Slagle, who spearheaded the team that created the survey. He served as Director of the UA Little Rock Survey Research Center until recently accepting the position of Director of the UA Little Rock School of Public Affairs.

Slagle’s fascination for the survey project has only grown since reviewing the 2022 data, drawn from students from 24 participating educational institutions, an increase over the inaugural survey with 18 higher education institutions.

“This past year’s data reveals huge jumps for risk behaviors and substance use,” he said, attributing the rise to possible responses to the Omicron wave for COVID-19, which coincided with the assessment distribution and its negative effects.

He and his research team have learned varying lessons throughout the survey implementation process. For those states considering executing a similar survey, Slagle has found that the best person to reach out to for university buy-in is the chancellor, provost, or president because they can authorize the survey. Having the survey go through the institutional review process was also key to credibility.

“There are pros and cons to different distribution modalities,” he said. “With the online survey, the best you can hope for is if the university would give you the student’s emails, so that you could email students directly. That would be my preference if I were to choose it.”

Distribution of the ACSUA survey was not confined to two-year and four-year public institutions. It was open to private, post-baccalaureate programs, and medical schools as well.

“Two-year public institutions are the most eager to participate,” said Slagle. “They’ve been great partners.” He finds it interesting that the response rate for all participating schools, regardless of student population, typically averaged around 5% for the student population.

“This year, we had one university post the open survey link on their online newsletter and there were all sorts of problems with that. So, do not have any open links that are publicly assessable would be a strong recommendation.”

For the 2023 fall distribution cycle, Slagle would like to add more questions around mental health. He hopes to increase the number of educational institutions taking part in the survey and plans to continue providing institutions with individual reports to help those planning prevention efforts on campuses to better understand the college drinking and drug culture. “Having some reliable and consistent data year after year can inform planning, administration, and evaluation of these different programs,” he said.

Read more about the ACSUA survey and data results at:

The study is conducted by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Survey Research Center; is sponsored by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock MidSOUTH Center for Prevention and Training; and funded by Arkansas Department of Human Services Division of Aging, Adult, and Behavioral Health Services with continued support from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (SAMHSA/CSAP) via the Substance Abuse Block Grant.

Arkansas map with pencil
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