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Commuter college students’ peer crowd affiliations may predict substance use-related risks, college adjustment

Although commuters comprise a sizable portion of students at many institutions, little research exists on this population. A recent study examined the peer crowd landscape and the relationships between peer crowd affiliation and college adjustment among commuter students at one U.S. university. Participants (N = 663) were recruited from a campus at which 92% of the student population commuted to school. The average age in the sample was 20.4 years (standard deviation [SD] = 3.2). Nearly 65% of participants identified as female, 28.5% were Hispanic/Latino, and 15.2% were Asian. This study consisted of a focus group with 10 students, during which participants identified and described peer crowd groups among commuter students, followed by an online survey administered to students recruited from campus research participation pools. Survey measures included self-reported peer crowd affiliation (measured using a modified version of the College Peer Crown Questionnaire that included the school-specific crowds identified during the focus group), as well as loneliness, college belongingness, risk behaviors (academic-, alcohol-, drug-, and sex-related behaviors), gender, and race/ethnicity. The authors employed a two-step factor analytic approach, in which the sample was first divided in half (n1 = 333, n2 = 330) and an exploratory factor analysis was conducted on the first subsample. This test indicated there were four significant underlying factors in the data. Next, the authors performed a confirmatory factor analysis on the second subsample, specifying four factors, to create final composite peer group variables. Results of this analysis indicated four peer crowd variables (social/partiers, creatives and activists, campus active [those involved in on-campus activities], and international) accounted for 54.4% of variance in the sample. Finally, the authors performed a path analysis, in which the college adjustment outcomes were regressed on the four peer crowd composites, controlling for gender and race/ethnicity. Results indicated the social/partiers (β = – 0.20, p = 0.000), creatives and activists (β = 0.16, p = 0.004), and campus active (β = 0.13, p = 0.008) peer crowd composites significantly predicted loneliness, while only membership in the campus active group was significantly associated with college belongingness (β = 0.19, p = 0.000). Self-reported membership in the social/partiers peer crowd predicted academic risk (β = 0.19, p = 0.000). Membership in the social/partiers (β = 0.29, p = 0.000) and campus active (β = – 0.10, p = 0.024) groups was significantly associated with alcohol risk. Both the social/partiers (β = 0.35, p = 0.000) and campus active (β = – 0.12, p = 0.012) peer crowds predicted drug risk. Limitations of this study include its cross-sectional design and a lack of strong evidence that peer crowd affiliation predicts college adjustment.

Take away: In this sample, commuter college students reported whether they belonged to one of four composite peer crowds (social/partiers, creatives and activists, campus active, and international) and substance risk behaviors. Membership in the social/partiers group significantly positively predicted academic-, alcohol-, and drug-related risk, while membership in the campus active group was negatively associated with these risk behaviors.

 Wax, A., Hopmeyer, A., Dulay, P.N. & Medovoy, T. (2018). Commuter college student adjustment: Peer crowd affiliation as a driver of loneliness, belongingness, and risk Behaviors. Emerging Adulthood [published online ahead of print June 11, 2018] doi: 10.1177/2167696818781128

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