ERIC Identifier: ED320648
Publication Date: 1989-12-00
Author: Banks, Debra L. - Colby, Anita
Clearinghouse for Junior Colleges Los Angeles CA.
Organizing Institutional Research in the Community College.
Accountability has been a developing issue for community colleges for the
past several years. Since 1983, all but fourteen states have mandated
accountability measures of some type to assess and document the educational
performance of community colleges. Many community colleges have responded to
these requirements by establishing or strengthening the institutional research
function on their campuses.
ADDRESSING ACCOUNTABILITY IMPERATIVES
requirements differ from state to state, but all share the goal of improving
educational effectiveness. To achieve this goal, colleges may be required to do
any or all of the following: employ a longitudinal approach to measure
institutional or program effects on student outcomes; assess student performance
in transfer, vocational and basic skills programs; or evaluate the strengths and
weaknesses of the college's instructional programs and student services as they
relate to the effectiveness of the institution. Such demands for accountability
place a heavy burden on community college institutional research offices. As
Palmer (1988) points out, "each research question has its price tag, both in
terms of cost and research expertise, and longitudinal questions on student
outcomes are more difficult to address than cross-sectional questions on
enrollment or the number of degrees awarded" (p.2).
The traditional role of community college research has expanded from the
documentation of student demographics and review of college programs to the
overall assessment and evaluation of the college's effectiveness. Moreover,
accountability requirements have made institutional research an integral and
ongoing part of college administration.
ORGANIZING INSTITUTIONAL RESEARCH TO MEET ACCOUNTABILITY MANDATES
MacDougall and Friedlander (1990) identified a number of
organizational models used by community colleges in carrying out the research
function. These include on-site operations at the college or district level,
collaborative efforts involving a consortium of colleges, and the state-level
coordination of research projects.
Both the independent and collaborative models have advantages and
disadvantages. When a college or district works independently, the scope and
design of outcomes can be shaped by researchers with input from administrators,
faculty, and support staff to ensure that the research not only addresses local
concerns, but also relates to the college's overall mission and objectives.
However, college and district research offices are costly to maintain, and
research results about an individual school or district may not be generalizable
to the region or state. Given differences in definitions and research methods,
these results may not be comparable among peer institutions.
Collaborative projects or research coordinated at the state level generally
produce normative results for a region or state, and can be used to inform and
influence statewide decisions and policy making. Through the pooling of
resources, even the smallest colleges can conduct fairly sophisticated and
involved studies (McConochie and Tschechtlin, 1990). However, collaborative
efforts also have drawbacks. Issues of concern at the state level may not
parallel the concerns of individual colleges, and normative results from state
or regional research may not provide sufficiently detailed information to inform
institutional decision making. The problem of establishing definitions for
research variables exists at the state level as well. If the definitions
provided by a state research office for variables such as transfer rates or job
placement are misinterpreted or interpreted differently by the participating
colleges, the statewide results will be unreliable.
EXEMPLARY INSTITUTIONAL RESEARCH MODELS
research program of Rancho Santiago College in California provides an example of
a traditional, centralized research office, well integrated into the college's
decision-making process (Slark, 1990). The director of research and planning
reports directly to the chancellor, ensuring that research activities inform and
support administrative and educational functions at all levels and all
departments of the college. Regular meetings between the chancellor's cabinet
and the director of institutional research and planning provide a forum for
determining research directions and disseminating study results to individual
departments. The IR director plays a significant role in college planning and
evaluation, and serves as a campus and team leader.
Santa Barbara City College in California uses a decentralized organizational
model to involve faculty and administrators in research efforts (MacDougall and
others, 1990). With the college president setting the tone, the institutional
research program is conducted by a committee comprised of two deans of
instruction, the assistant dean of admissions and records, a counselor, the
assistant to the president, and a faculty member familiar with database
management. The committee drafts an initial research agenda, which is reviewed
by the College Planning Council. The IR committee meets formally with the
college president and vice presidents at least four times a year to review
findings and implications, and meets regularly and informally with faculty and
The Los Rios Community College District in California utilizes a District
Research Council (DRC) to coordinate the activities of a central district
research office, three individual campus offices, and studies requested by
individual faculty members or administrators (Jones, 1990). The DRC is composed
of the district's director of planning and research, the district coordinator of
research, a research systems software specialist, the college directors of
research, and the director of database processing. The primary role of the DRC
is to provide coordination and quality control and make recommendations on
district and college research and database priorities. The DRC advises the
district's director of planning and research, who in turn advises the chancellor
Maryland's community college system provides a good example of a state-local
research partnership (McConochie and Tschechtlin, 1990). The Maryland Community
College Research Group (MCCRG) has a representative from each of the 17
community colleges and is chaired by a college research director. Often the
results of institutional research projects will be shared at an MCCRG meeting
and subsequently the project will be replicated by other colleges or picked up
as a statewide project by the group and the State Board. Projects that have
generated cooperation and collaboration between all the colleges have generally
risen from local research interests that affect a number of colleges or from
state information requirements generated by the legislature or other statewide
groups. In the case of statewide studies, the MCCRG decides on the research
goals and the design of instruments; the State Board coordinates the development
of the research instrument and pays for printing; each college conducts the
field administration of the survey and reports back findings to the State Board;
and, finally, the State Board merges the colleges' survey data into a computer
file and provides feedback to the colleges.
As state and local demands for accountability
increase, institutional research must become an essential function of the
community college. Determining the most effective organizational model for
integrating research into college operations will depend upon the college's
size, organizational complexity, available resources, research expertise, and
commitment to institutional research.
Most of the articles cited in this digest will
appear in a forthcoming issue of NEW DIRECTIONS FOR COMMUNITY COLLEGES, entitled "Models for Conducting Institutional Research," edited by Jack Friedlander and
Peter R. MacDougall. The NEW DIRECTIONS FOR COMMUNITY COLLEGES monographic
series is published quarterly by Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers in San Francisco.
The cited articles are:
Friedlander, J.; and MacDougall, P. R. "Responding to Mandates for Institutional Effectiveness."
Jones, J. C. "Multi-Campus District: District Coordinated Research Model."
MacDougall, P. R.; And Others. "Decentralized Research Model."
McConochie, D. D.; and Tschechtlin, J. D. "T-Test for Two: A State-Local Research Partnership."
Slark, J. "The Traditional Centralized Model of Institutional Research: Its Derivation and Evolution at One College."
Palmer, Jim. "Assessing Institutional Effectiveness: Community College Case Studies." Washington, DC: American Association of Community and Junior Colleges, 1988. 9p. (ED 292 499)