[CLS Logo] Info for Researchers

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Background of the CLS

In July 2003, the University of Maryland, was awarded approximately $2.5 million from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) of the National Institutes on Health (NIH) to launch the College Life Study (CLS). Amelia M. Arria, Ph.D., is the Principal Investigator. Originally funded for a 5-year period, the study's early successes have led to additional funding awards from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), and the Maryland Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration (ADAA). A second NIDA grant, awarded in 2008 for $3.5 million, is supporting continuation of the study for another 5 years, thereby providing an unparalleled opportunity to study the post-college transition and other events in young adulthood.

The CLS aims to increase our knowledge of a broad range of health-related behaviors of college students, including illicit drug use, problematic drinking, nonmedical use of prescription drugs, nutritional habits, physical activity, health care utilization, and involvement in high-risk behaviors, such as drunk driving, risky sex, and violence. The study's broad focus enables us to fill large gaps in our knowledge concerning the health needs of college students and provide information that can guide the development of needed interventions. Outcomes of primary interest include academic performance, college graduation, physical and mental health, progress toward career goals, and acquisition of other salient developmental milestones of young adulthood. The results will be useful for university administrators, social science researchers, health professionals dealing with college students and other young adults, and prevention specialists. The CLS is a unique opportunity to measure how students adjust to campus life and answer key questions regarding topics such as student dropout, prior and developing health problems, and the correlates of academic success and failure. In short, the CLS has the potential to be a landmark study of college student health.

[Sarah and Gillian]

The CLS differs from earlier studies of college students in that it is a longitudinal prospective study, following a large sample (n = 1,253) of college students throughout their college career and beyond. This feature of the study strengthens its ability to detect changes and understand the temporal patterning of related events, permitting researchers to learn how students' health is affected by their behavior and various events occurring at different stages throughout college and young adulthood. The design will also permit examination of how positive college experiences (e.g., interest in a new career or development of an important social relationship) can move a student off a negative trajectory that perhaps began in high school.

The CLS began with the screening of incoming freshman students who attended Summer Orientation in 2004 (approximately 90% of the incoming class). Since then, we have followed a sample of 1,253 of individuals from the screened cohort via annual interviews and web-based surveys. Students with drug involvement in high school (either illicit drug use or nonmedical prescription drug use) were oversampled to obtain a high-risk rather than a representative sample, in order to optimize statistical power for drug use analyses.

Annual follow-up assessments are 2-hour face-to-face interviews covering a broad range of topics (see list below), and include a number of self-administered questionnaires. Alcohol and drug use patterns are assessed in great detail using the Timeline Followback Survey, which has been specially adapted for college students. Some domains have been assessed repeatedly every year (e.g., DSM-IV criteria for substance use disorders, mental health symptoms), while others have evolved to reflect maturational changes as they progress through different stages of life (e.g., academic goals, career aspirations, risky sexual behavior, family history of mental health problems, attitudes about providing alcohol to minors). We have also updated our interview to reflect contemporary trends relevant for young adult health, such as questions about energy drinks and social networking sites.

Measurement Domains
High School Experiences
Extracurricular Involvement
Alcohol and Other Drug Use
Parental Monitoring
Social Functioning
Index of Peer Relations
Quality of Relationships Inventory
Social Support Appraisals Scale
General Health
Self-reported height and weight
Self-reported medical conditions and current medications
Health Service Utilization and Barriers
General Health Service Utilization
Mental Health Treatment
Substance Abuse Treatment
Health Insurance Coverage
Stress and Life Events
Current Distress Level (General Health Questionnaire)
Life Events Questionnaire
Alcohol and Other Drug Use
Age of Onset, Quantity, Frequency, Recency
Timeline Followback for alcohol and other drugs since starting college
DSM-IV Criteria for Abuse and Dependence
Ecstasy Experiences Questionnaire
Caffeine and Energy Drinks
Mental Health
Beck Depression Inventory
Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale
Beck Anxiety Inventory
Sexual Behavior
Number of sexual partners
Frequency of unprotected sex
Unplanned pregnancy
Sexually transmitted infections
Psychological Functioning
Satisfaction with Life Scale
Dysregulation Inventory

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Direct comments and questions to cls@umd.edu
This project was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse
(R01DA14845, Amelia M. Arria, PI).