Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Ask the Administrator: Suggestions for Research?
A canny correspondent writes:
I work for a community college system and am working on an Ed.D. in leadership. I am casting around for research questions and wondered if you had any thoughts regarding useful research questions centering around community colleges, systems and educational leadership.
Ooh, I like that.
I'll preface this with something along the lines of “my degree is in an evergreen discipline, rather than in higher ed, so there may be reams of research in these areas that I just don't know about.” And an embarrassing amount of the stuff I have seen about higher ed is autobiographical case studies in which the folks who started a given initiative write about it, so it's neither objective nor comparative.
(Of course, one could say the same about my blog. The difference is, it's a blog.)
So a few things I'd like to see studied systematically:
The least harmful and/or most sustainable ways to deal with reduced budgets. The usual drill is to start with travel and subscription money, to replace retiring full-time faculty with adjuncts, to reduce 'release time,' to cheap out on instructional and office supplies, and to consolidate a few administrative positions. (My job used to be two jobs. I think that explains a lot, actually.) But each of those comes with its own costs, some of which are slow to surface but equally slow to remediate. (Reducing travel for one year does little long-term harm. Reducing travel for several years starts to reduce the quality of your faculty and staff.) Are there better ways?
Buyouts of tenured faculty. How are these best handled, or should they be rejected altogether? Should they be done with across-the-board offers, or only with low performers, or with high performers as a reward? (The 'moral hazard' with low performers strikes me as staggering.) What's the right price?
Department chairs: elected or appointed? Term limits?
Which funding models are least volatile? In some states, they have “state community colleges,” in which most of the external funding comes from the state. In other states, most cc's are defined (and paid for) by counties, with varying levels of state support. (Ohio seems to do both, which I find mystifying.) It seems like all public higher ed is vulnerable to shifts in the economy, but are there particular models or combinations that are more sustainable and stable than others?
Cc's have been slow, compared to the rest of higher ed, to cultivate the 'alumni/donor' philanthropic area. What 'best practices' have the most successful cc development offices found? Since we don't have high-profile sports, and most of our most successful alums identify with their four-year or graduate schools, how can we best capitalize on their ties to us?
Comparative governance models. Some states have local Boards of Trustees for each college; others have a single statewide Board. Does one model lead to better (however defined) outcomes than the other?
That's off the top of my head, anyway. The common denominator, I think, is that they're mostly comparative. That seems to be what's lacking in most of the literature I've seen, which, admittedly, is less than it could be.
Good luck with your project!
Wise and worldly readers – what would you like to see studied systematically?
Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.
So having said that, I should note that Ed.D. dissertations in leadership tend to be very heavy in surveys and the convenience-sample case study (as you note), and your correspondent didn't say what her or his grasp of different methods were. Some great questions (e.g., how institutional leaders make decisions in times of crisis) would require skills in ethnography and interviewing. Others (say, about finances) require quantitative skills.
I'd suggest looking at the correlation between the fraction of EdD degrees in CC management and performance of the CC's graduates after they transfer: that is, to an externally objective measure of the education taking place on campus.
One of the great college presidents from the standpoint of leadership, John Hannah at Michigan State (which was a college when he took over), had only a BS degree ... and his first job out of college was identifying the gender of baby chickens.
The correlation of basic skill assessment performance to age at time of admission (traditional vs non-traditional student), type of admission (public h.s., private h.s., home school, GED, etc), and individual demographics.
Muscle & sinew to a community college.
A tired old Mighty Favog
1. Unionization at CCs. When generally did full-timers unionize, and how has this affected admin. decisions.
2. Transfer credits. What can CC leaders do to smooth the process?
3. Curriculum reform among CCs. Given that some CCs are more or less vocationally oriented, how do the one's focusing on transfering students to 4-year schools decide on curricula? Core courses or not? Branch campuses for job/skills training?
4. Should CCs cozy up to particular in-state schools? Reciprocal agreements? Training for those who earn bachelors at 4-year schools but still need skills training for the workforce?
Yikes. Now I realize why so much of the research in my field is absolute garbage: people think there's actually something wrong with querying subject matter experts!
I'd also love to read about productivity - what different schools use as a measure of productivity and how the faculty feel about how they are measured or how faculty with different productivity levels compare. And finally, outcomes - are "more productuve" faculty achieving better outcomes.
To anonymous 11:00, the people responding here are not "subject matter experts" in that (apart from DD) most are not administrators. The concern running below the surface of comments like mine is that a person working at a CC did not come with a list of ideas and seek validation or alternatives. Anyone paying attention should have a half-dozen theories related to success and failure after only a year or two at a CC!
I'll add one of mine that might show up more at a CC than at a 4-year institution: military service. We all like having vets in our classes, but I have never seen that category split out in any "demographic" (read race and gender) analysis of success at our college.
CCPhys, ours are broken out in some categories, but not all, and I'd sure like to see data that backs up (or doesn't) the anecdotal experiences of profs that vets are superior students. And then I'd love to know if someone could pinpoint exactly which skills and habits they bring to the task that leads to that success, and which of those could be taught in a non-military setting -- for our strugglers.
One or two of you asked why? Well, we would say that, while on active duty, they understood that school was their job and that they were to perform that task, as any other in the military, by adhering to our service's core values: integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.
I would posit that, once a service member leaves the service (honorably)they carry that work ethic, and those core values, with them.
"Military Culture" re-programs our kids to believe that no, you are not "special just like everyone else;" that actual achievement is the only thing that matters, and that performance comes as a result of focused effort over time.
O.K., what were you saying about teaching those values to society as a whole?
Not bloody likely.