3 Myths About Evaluation

3 Myths About Evaluation

When you hear the word evaluation, what comes to mind? Does this word bring up images of complex research methods and advanced statistical models? Is there a sense of impending doom and fear? Do you just see evaluation as a necessary evil that is required by your funding agency? There are a lot of mixed reactions and emotions that come with the term evaluation. Many of these reactions are driven by myths about evaluations.

Here are the top three myths I hear as a professional evaluator of college access programs and how I bust them:

1. Evaluation doesn’t impact my students.

While direct student services are the heart and soul of college access programs, I would say that evaluation is just as critical as it acts as the brain helping to drive decision-making for your program. You can really think about evaluation as an investment in your student’s future. If you do not know which services actually have an impact on your students’ lives then you may be unintentionally spending program resources on ineffective practices.

2. Evaluation is too expensive.

The reality for most college access programs is that they have access to a limited set of resources (e.g., money, time) to operate their programs. Because resources are limited evaluation is often seen as a costly enterprise that diverts necessary resources from direct student services. The fact is, the field of evaluation encompasses such a wide range of approaches and strategies. For example, if you are interested in learning more about how your students interact with your program you could do a short student survey, a focus group, or an in-depth case study that spotlights the lived experiences of your students. Each of these approaches would generate meaningful data and insights about your program. But the time and effort required are very different, which means the cost associated with each approach would be different as well. There truly is an evaluation option to fit any budget!  

3. Only programs that are struggling should conduct an evaluation.

In an era of accountability from many funding agencies, program evaluation has unfairly been associated with a punitive strategy to eliminate ineffective programs. As a result, many college access programs fear that evaluation should only be designed to produce positive outcomes, so they do not lose their funding. This approach really limits the practical utility of evaluation because it leaves no room for learning and improvement. If we don’t learn from our mistakes we are doomed to repeat them, which can have a direct and detrimental impact on students’ lives. Evaluation should be a tool to help you understand not only the successes of your program but also the failures and the contexts that influence your program.


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Contributed By Meghan Ecker-Lyster

Meghan Ecker-Lyster, Ph.D., is the director of Research, Evaluation & Dissemination for the University of Kansas Center for Educational Opportunity Programs (CEOP). She currently oversees and manages the evaluation portfolio for CEOP’s federally funded college access programs, as well as the external evaluator for other equity-focused programs, including GEAR UP, TRIO, and other educational access programs

Follow @CEOPmedia on Twitter to learn more about how our Research, Evaluation, and Dissemination team leverages data and strategic dissemination to improve program outcomes while improving the visibility of college access programs.