Higher Ed Cop Out #5: Cheerleading

March 24, 2009 | Blog

Sitting at my desk preparing for tomorrow’s class, and then just like a little ray of sunshine the Chronicle‘s afternoon update arrives. Hope springs eternal. To wit:

“College-Preparedness Campaign Shows Good Results”

The news? Kids across the country reported on a survey that they’ve seen the KnowHow2Go ad campaign, and those kids also report that they’ve talked to adults about attending college.

According to the president of the American Council of Education this means, “The campaign message is taking hold and students are taking action.”

Ok, then. Um, where to start?

How about:

1. All empirical evidence indicates that ambitions for college are rising.
2. There’s little empirical evidence to suggest that failing to talk to adults is part of the reason why more poor kids don’t attend college.
3. The survey didn’t ask kids if talking to adults was the DIRECT result of seeing a KnowHow2Go ad.
4. The survey was only taken by kids who like to take surveys about college-going.

In a nutshell, while it’s clear that several organizations are spending loads of money on KnowHow2Go, this hardly constitutes evidence of “success” or “impact.”

If we really want to make sure that our efforts add value by truly helping kids, we must let go of such cheerleading and instead commission rigorous evaluations designed to help us ensure our programs have genuine impact, dollar for dollar.


  1. Reply


    March 24, 2009

    I have great respect for The Chronicle of Higher Education but in the last six months they have released a number of news blog items that read like revised press releases and they have published articles highlighting non-peer reviewed reports from think tanks (and similar organizations) with very little attempt at critical analysis or journalistic investigation. I appreciate when scholars like you take the time to "drop a little science". I sincerely hope someone at the Chronicle is reading your blog.

  2. Reply


    March 25, 2009

    I'm not quite sure what's going on with the Chronicle's "News Blog." You're right, there is more cheerleading there than substance or news. I think that some of the comments following the Chronicle post show some frustration with the article, and this does not bode well for the Chroonicle's blogging attempts. This blog post would have been a good opportunity for the chronicle to delve into some issues and create some dialogue. The Chronicle needs to be careful with their blog and should know their audience will not be satisfied with mere cheerleading.

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