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February 7, 2014

In Our Opinion: College drug study is too simplistic

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The Daily Star

---- — Usually when a local college gets ranked at the top of a national list, we’re ready to cheer “We’re No. 1!” along with everyone else. 

But a recent project showing that the State University College at Oneonta leads the nation in on-campus drug-related arrests has just left us puzzled. 

The “Drugs on Campus” report by Rehabs.com used a fairly simple methodology. By comparing crime statistics reported to the federal Department of Education with on-campus population figures, Drugs on Campus project leader Jon Millward came up with rankings for the colleges included in the study. With an average of 13.61 arrests per 1,000 students, SUNY Oneonta sits at the top of the list. 

So what does that mean? 

Millward says, “SUNY Oneonta earned the not-very-illustrious accolade of being the druggiest college of the 7,000 the nation has within its borders.” But is that really fair? 

College spokesman Hal Legg — and several students who spoke to The Daily Star about the study — say they don’t think so. 

“The information Rehabs.com shared demonstrates ... our effectiveness in policing, and the decisiveness of our response when we find illegal drugs here,” Legg said on Monday. 

Legg noted that the college’s on-campus University Police force gives law enforcement an advantage in identifying and apprehending students who bring illegal drugs onto campus. 

But as Legg himself noted, University Police are found throughout the SUNY system. Five other SUNY schools appear on the list.* Many other SUNY campuses do not. So is there something else going on here? 

Some students made reference to the college’s reputation as a drug and party school — but as a vestige of days gone by. 

“You hear it called ‘Stoneonta’ online, but it seems like it used to be a bigger problem than it is now,” a freshman woman told The Daily Star on Monday. “I feel like it’s gotten better since then.”

Despite the report’s assertion that Oneonta is the “druggiest” college in the entire country, the simplistic methodology used here could point to any number of different explanations. It is certainly possible that we have more than our fair share of illegal drug users up on the hill. We know that heroin use is a serious problem in the region, and there’s no reason to think our campuses are immune. But it’s just as possible that Legg is right, and the college is exceptionally vigilant. 

Whatever the explanation, we’re not ready to declare SUNY Oneonta the drug capital of the nation’s colleges just yet — and we hope anyone else looking at this study can see that its conclusions might leave a lot to be desired. 

*Editor's note: This editorial was changed at 1:45 p.m. Feb. 7, 2014, to correct inaccurate information about how many other SUNY schools were listed in the top 50 of this report.