"A Matter of Degree" Evaluation

The "A Matter of Degree" (AMOD) program was designed to reduce drinking and alcohol-related problems on college campuses but has unfortunately proven to be ineffective.

Ten universities across the U.S. received almost nine million dollars (the total cost of the program being $17,500,000.00) from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to reduce the presence of alcohol in their campus environments in an effort to reduce alcohol abuse and alcohol-related problems. A careful five-year evaluation of the program was conducted by one of its most enthusiastic supporters, Henry Wechsler, and his colleagues. They studied seven measures of alcohol consumption, 13 measures of alcohol-related problems or harms, and eight measures of secondhand effects of alcohol use on others.

The result? "No change" was found in any of the 28 measures of alcohol use or alcohol-related negative consequences. Thus, the "A Matter of Degree" program is clearly ineffective.

The program's strong supporters and grant recipients continue to claim success in spite of the evidence that it is ineffective. For example, the University of Wisconsin's "Policy, Alternatives, Community and Education" (PACE) program was one of the ten funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. In spite of the program, drinking rates increased at the University. In the period of just one year the number of students who were so intoxicated that they required admission to detox programs soared from 41 last year to 74

The University was then again named the nation's top party school by the Princeton Review and by Playboy. The school was also featured in a USA Today series about high-risk drinking in college.

In spite of its dismal failure, the program ironically claims success. It does so by looking only at what it's doing rather than at the behavior of students. For example it points to how many people it has hired, how many non-alcohol events it has organized, a brochure it has published, and a parental notification system it has successfully promoted. In short, the program has succeeded, it's the students who have failed.

A spokesperson for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said PACE has done a good job of tracking data and pushing for change, though he said the foundation had "hoped for better results at all of its program sites." Indeed, none of the "A Matter of Degree" programs has been successful.

As one observer noted, "I'm sure PACE has good intentions with wonderful people involved, but they're misguided to the point where I believe that million dollars has just been blown down the drain."

That's the key -- the group is clearly misguided. It's been using the wrong approach. Using neo-prohibition methods that are doomed to failure.

Using a social norms marketing approach along with brief intervention techniques would have not only cost a small fraction of what was spent but would also have reduced the incidence of drinking problems, according to the best evidence.

It's time to use effective programs rather than ideological ones.

References and Resources on "A Matter of Degree" (AMOD):

  • A Matter of Degree: Reducing High Risk Drinking among College Students. (The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation claims success by pointing out what the A Matter of Degree program did in terms of its actions - how much it spent, etc. - but not on what students did in terms of drinking alcohol.) http://www.rwjf.org/grants/product.jsp?id=40508
  • The AMOD Program Evaluation. A Matter of Degree website. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/amod/
  • (AMOD) A MATTER OF DEGREE: The National Effort to Reduce High-Risk Drinking Among College Students. http://www.alcoholpolicymd.com/programs/amod.htm
  • Nelson, T., Weitzman, E., and Wechsler, H. The effect of a campus-community environmental alcohol prevention iniative on student drinking and driving: results from the "A Matter of Degree" program evaluation. Traffic Injury Prevention, 2005, 6(4), 323-330.
  • Rivedao, Karen. Program to reduce student drinking gets mixed marks. Wisconsin State Journal, May 7, 2006.
  • Wechsler, H., Weitzman, E., and Nelson, T. Battle of the binge: evaluating the "A Matter of Degree" program to combat alcohol abuse on campus. Currents, 2005, 31(3), 9-10.
  • Weitzman, E.R., Nelson, T.H., Lee, H., and Wechsler, Henry. Reducing drinking and related harms in college: Evaluation of the "A Matter of Degree" program. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2004, 27(3), 187-196.
  • Weitzman E.R., Nelson T.F., Wechsler H. Assessing success in a coalition-based environmental prevention programme targeting alcohol abuse and harms. Nordic Journal of Substance Use, 2003, (20), 1-9.
  • Zeigler, Donald W. Lessons learned about environmental alcohol strategies from the "A Matter of Degree" program in college communities http://apha.confex.com/apha/134am/techprogram/paper_141238.htm

Filed Under: College