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:

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.

Ummm.... isn't somebody who's pursuing a terminal degree supposed to come up with their own research questions? Have their own original ideas for what they'd like to explore?
Give me a break, Ed.D. candidate. DO YOUR OWN WORK.
I'm sure this candidate will do his or her own work. It is beneficial to know what community college administrators would find most useful regarding research on community colleges. Exploration is part of the process. Community college research is quite new, with most research geared toward 4-year institutions. This is stepping into new territory, and the research will be much more beneficial if it will actually be useful to community college leaders. Maybe you hadn't thought this through before your posts....
I disagree with Dr. C and anonymous: a smart doctoral student will listen to all sorts of suggestions, maybe come up with one on her or his own, and regardless of the origins reshape it to fit her or his strengths and passions. Whether the ideas come from the "more research needed" section of a published article, an advisor's suggestion, sussing out a gap in the literature, comments on this blog, or a mail-order post-office box in Schenectady, New York, a doctoral student still will have to shape it into a feasible, interesting project that she or he can live with for months on end.

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 think it was the "casting around" in the original question that made me respond as I did initially. I understand that original ideas happen in conversation with others, and that it's worthwhile to see what others would find interesting, but the language of "casting around for research questions" struck me as a student asking for Dean Dad and his readers to do one of the important parts of independent research for him/her. Had the student offered a bit more information (as Sherman Dorn discusses in his comment) or had the student explained his/her primary areas of interest first, providing some context for his/her query, I don't think I'd have responded as I did. In other words, my response was more about the language of the question and the underlying implications of that language than about the practice of discussing possible paths for research with others (which obviously we all do in some fashion). The way the question was phrased was not unlike the way an undergraduate will sometimes ask a professor to "give" them a topic for a paper, when part of the assignment is for the student to generate one independently. Perhaps, however, in reading the question that way I was not being adequately generous.
A person pursuing a real doctorate does all of the things Prof Dorn said, but one seeking an EdD in LEADERSHIP as more than a surrogate for actually having leadership skills ought to have some idea by now of where choices have to be made in higher education.

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.
I think there should be a terminal, non-research track for those interested in administration. Those interested in continued research and publishing should take the diss. track.
An idea (also an elephant in the room).

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
Topics for research:

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?

- TL
Ummm.... isn't somebody who's pursuing a terminal degree supposed to come up with their own research questions? Have their own original ideas for what they'd like to explore?

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 would love to see a study that compares colleges with a large number of Ph.D profs and those with Masters level profs. Do they have different outcomes from their students? Why did they end up with the faculty they have? The idea that "more is better" in terms of time spent in grad school has always struck me as one of those unexplored assumptions that might not actually be true if you look at the data.

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.
Mighty Favog is on the mark with that suggestion, although I would include the correlation with one of the "success" measures (earning 15 hours of college credit with a C average and whatever earned : attempted ratio your college wants to see). I see evidence that prep classes are more effective with returning students than recent HS grads, so looking at success along with age and placement scores might tell us something interesting about how to serve those two populations.

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.
Oh, good God, yes -- vets are such wonderful students they start to make compulsory post-high-school military service look like a great idea. ;)

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.
City Limits recently had an article about CUNY's active recruitment of veterans: New Kid on Campus: Iraq Vets Adjust to College
As a (relatively) recent retiree from the Air Force, let me say "Amen!" to your assessment of veterans as students. I finished my Air Force career on the faculty of the Air Force's Graduate School, and I have to say, they are the best students.

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.
Hmmm . . . "popular culture" programs our kids to believe that they are o.k. in all that they do, everyone deserves a blue ribbon, and You Are Valued Just For Being You.

"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.
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