August 2018 - Qualitative Research – Often Time Consuming but Valuable

August 28, 2018
  • Research
  • community college
  • Credentials
  • dual credit
  • Federal Loans
  • Technology

Commentary: Qualitative Research – Often Time Consuming but Valuable

When I was working on my dissertation proposal in early 2001, my committee chair and I chatted about whether or not to pursue a quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods approach to help understand the factors around female-non-traditional-student college persistence. He talked to me about how much time and effort the mixed methods would take because of the addition of the qualitative piece, but in his mind the data would be much richer. Well, 221 typed pages later, I agreed with him on both counts. It was a lot of work conducting interviews with students and parsing the interviews into themes, but what they shared with me added so much to my understanding of college persistence in this population than the survey data alone would have provided. That experience is why I still try to add some sort of qualitative approach, albeit sometimes ‘qualitative light,’ in the larger AACRAO research projects. The stories we get from our members about their experiences both professionally and with their own institutional practices add a great deal to our understanding of the complexity of higher education. Qualtrics recently shared a nice blog article on the value of qualitative research.

AACRAO Research Update

Three research areas are currently in progress or about to be deployed. The first is an examination of how institutions market to high school seniors, and this survey is currently in the field. Second, Emma and I are refining the narrative for our examination of the causes of excess credits at graduation.  As a sneak peek at the results, among those students who responded to a survey asking about how they felt about their excess credits at graduation, 66% selected “Neither pleased nor displeased.  I expected there to be some extra credits earned that would not apply to my degree.” We will submit the report for consideration in SEMQ, and the results will be presented at the AACRAO SEM conference. Finally, the September 60-Second survey topic was suggested by one of our members.  The survey will focus on program completion time limit practices. This survey will deploy on September 10th to account for the holiday the previous week.

Call for Research Grant Applications Extended

The 2018-2019 Research Grant application deadline has been extended until September 28, 2018.

The purpose of this grant is to encourage applied research on enrollment management issues and to foster the next generation of higher education leaders. The research grant program is intended to support the pursuit of advanced degrees among AACRAO members and to stimulate thought, discussion, and research on emerging topics in higher education enrollment management. There is a stipend of $2,000 to be used toward the completion of an advanced degree and the development of a draft academic research article. Find more about the grant on the AACRAO website.

Interested in Participating in Research?

The marketing to high school seniors survey is off to a slower than normal start. In hindsight, perhaps this was not the best time of year to deploy this survey. It was deployed it to all U.S. member institutions targeting the VPEM or primary contact if we do not have a VPEM in our membership roster. If you have an interest in completing the survey, please drop me a line and I will send it to you. As always if you have any recommendations for AACRAO research topics or questions about it, please drop me a line at

Current Higher Education Research and Related Topics

Prior Learning Assessment Policies

The Education Commission of the States released an introduction to Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) policies. They examine state level policies and provide examples to common elements of PLA including:

  • Informing students of PLA opportunities and requirements;
  • Assessing student knowledge;
  • Recording academic credits;
  • Collecting and reporting data; and
  • Military specific PLA policies.


EDUCAUSE Horizon Report

The new Horizon Report identifies short-, mid- and long-term technology trends, challenges, and important developments in technology related to higher education. The authors identify measured learning and the redesigning of learning spaces as two factors driving technology adoption in the next couple of years. Among the important developments in technology recommended for higher education adoption in one year or less are analytics and makerspaces with artificial intelligence and adaptive learning technologies on the two-three year horizon.

Dual Credit and College Success – A Texas Story

All eight of the University of Texas academic institutions completed a comprehensive study on the impact of dual credit on college success. Among the 61% of the 2015 entering class who had dual credit, major motivators were saving time and money. These students are more likely to persist and have higher GPAs and fewer credits at graduation. However, dual enrollment participation did not have an impact on students’ loan debt unless the students entered with 60 credit hours or more.  

Quality, Market Value and Effectiveness of Manufacturing Credentials

Worcred, an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) affiliate released a report that includes recommendations from manufacturers, credentialing organizations, educators, accreditors, and policy makers. The authors found a disconnect between the credential programs available and the perceived value by manufacturers. Manufacturers “often do not view credentials as the most relevant tools to identify new skilled personnel or as incentives to improve the quality of the existing workforce.” The authors provide a series of recommendations around the workforce skills gap and educational credentials:

  • “Improving understanding about the content, use, and value of credentials
  • Expanding the use of quality standards for credentials
  • Strengthening relationships between employers, education and training providers, and credentialing organizations
  • Adding an employability skills component to existing and new credentials
  • Creating credentials that focus on performance and address new roles
  • Increasing the number of apprentices and expanding apprenticeships to more occupations”


Family Support in Academic Success of Low-Income Students

A June Research in Higher Education article by Roksa and Kinsley reported that family emotional support is important for positive academic outcomes among low-income college students. 

Community College Student Goals, Objectives, Definitions of Success, Challenges, and Coursework Practices

The Community College Libraries and Academic Support for Student Success (CCLASSS) interviewed students at seven institutions and found that community college students:

  • Find community colleges to be a good match for their lives;
  • View success in terms of their career, educational and personal achievements; 
  • Find it challenging to balance real-life and going to college;
  • Like to complete coursework in quiet places; 
  • Use Google extensively for information for classes; and
  • Rely on their professors for guidance on resources for assignments.


What Happens After Loan Default and Why

Using data from NCES and hypothetical borrower-level examples, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) examined what happens to borrowers after they default on their college loans.  Among their conclusions is the fact that there is no single path after default. Some pay them down, and others see them rise continuously. In addition, “a borrower who has exited default often has not repaid his loan (although he may eventually), and a borrower still in default is often making rapid progress toward fully repaying his debts.” There are a number of different terms and penalties for default resolution which the authors found to be “opaque, inconsistent, and often overly punitive.” They authors conclude that there is room for improvement in policy and practice and also suggest that loan default is not always a “permanent or catastrophic situation.”

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