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Indiana’s Education Boondoggle

February 2, 2007

The Boston Globe picked up an AP story sometime back, on its Boston.com site, about the state of Indiana encouraging its high schoolers to go to college. What’s wrong with that? Well there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the goal, but the state’s choice of means is ridiculous: an advertising campaign.

Instead of hiring more student advisors that are aggressive and knowledgeable for their high schools, the State of Indiana is supporting an advertising campaign called “KnowHow2GoIndiana.” The campaign will use “radio commercials, television ads, billboards and a Web site geared toward students in grades 8 to 10” to encourage students to “find an adult to talk to about college, prepare for higher education by taking rigorous classes, locate the right school, and then find money to attend.” Here are some more excerpts from the piece:

– “One radio ad features a rap song about finding information for college. Another features a student dreaming about being accepted into college even though he has not taken the right steps to apply. ‘Wake up — you can’t dream your way into college,’ the ad says after the student’s alarm clock buzzes. ‘There are actual steps you need to take.’ “
– “Dennis Bland, president of the Center for Leadership Development in Indianapolis, said the campaign could help students navigate obstacles on the road to college. ‘These obstacles can be especially overwhelming for low-income students and their families, and for those who are first-generation college student aspirants,’ Bland said. ‘KnowHow2Go will help break these real and perceived barriers.’ “
– “About 75 percent of students from high-income families complete college by age 24, compared with only 9 percent of students from low-income families, according to the campaign. ‘The attainment gap between income groups is widening — in Indiana and across the country,’ said Martha Lamkin, president of the Lumina Foundation, an Indianapolis-based education organization. ‘We must reach out to low-income students.’ “
– “Indiana’s campaign, led by Learn More Indiana, is part of a national effort sponsored by the Lumina Foundation, the Ad Council and the American Council on Education.”

So, are the State of Indiana, Lumina Foundation, Ad Council, and American Council on Education thinking that they can do a better job than a personable high school guidance counselor that connects with his or her students? What empirical evidence makes these organizations think that advertising will get more kids into college? Will it work better than peer pressure? Are some of these ads targeted for parents? What do those parents know about college that a student advisor doesn’t know? Is the college matriculation gap based on money ~or~ knowledge about college’s benefits? If money, won’t the recently announced Pell Grant increase be just as effective?

Why does this bother me so? Because it demeans the efforts being made in already existing institutions. Again, those monies should be used to hire high quality student advisors into Indiana’s high schools. As it is, it’s an Indiana education boondoggle. – TL

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