This paper will summarize the proposed research methodology of my dissertation topic on gender discrepancies in regards to African-American education. There has been a noticeable, growing increase in the presence of African-American women in undergraduate and graduate education while the gap between African-American males and females has widened. The dissertation will use mixed methods, grounded theory perspective to determine why this is the case. The overall theoretical perspective of the work will be rooted in critical race theory and poststructuralist concepts.
Quantitatively assessed questionnaires and coded qualitative interviews will attempt to answer the question of why African-American male participation in higher education lags behind that of African-American females. These trends will be contextualized in the overall, larger trend of increased female participation as a whole on the undergraduate and graduate levels, to the point that women are now graduating in greater numbers than their male colleagues.
As well as research questions specific to the dissertation, the relative merits of qualitative and quantitative research are briefly discussed, along with a comparison of non-experimental, experimental, and quasi-experimental research designs (this particular project uses a quasi-experimental design). The paper concludes with a discussion of ethical questions germane to the research methods used.
One of the most hotly-debated issues in higher education today is the question of the extent to which race may impact the ability of a student to obtain a degree and to fully participate in the opportunities of the future workplace. According to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, not only is there a race and class divide between African-Americans in higher education and Caucasians but there is also a gender divide within the African-American community itself: “data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that in 2011, 18 percent of Black men over the age of 25 had obtained at least a bachelor’s degree. For Black women over the age of 25, 21.4 percent were college educated” (The gender gap, 2012, Journal of Blacks in Higher Education). In other words, the percentage of female African-Americans obtaining college degrees had exceeded those of male African-Americans.
Of course, this statistical trend is to some extent keeping with general demographic trends, which indicate that more and more women are obtaining undergraduate degrees in greater proportion than their male counterparts. Overall, “by the age of 23, 23 percent of women surveyed earned a bachelor's degree—compared with only 14 percent of men,” making women 60 percent more likely to obtain B.A.s (More women earn B.A. degrees than men, 2013, Huffington Post). But that general statistic hides the racial demographics behind these numbers, namely that the gap specific to African-Americans is much wider and is likely to remain so.
In fact, if the statistics regarding young African-American women are compared with young African-American males, the numbers are even more striking. “A generation or two ago, the gender gap in African American degree attainments heavily favored men. [But] for younger African Americans is far more pronounced. If we look at degree attainments for African Americans ages 25 to 29, we find that 16.1 percent of Black men hold at least a four-year college degree. For Black women ages 25 to 29, 22.9 percent are college educated” (The gender gap, 2012, Journal of Blacks in Higher Education). The gap is even wider at the graduate level: “some 56,000 young Black women aged 25 to 29 hold master’s degrees compared to only 23,000 young Black men” (The gender gap, 2012, Journal of Blacks in Higher Education). This proposed dissertation will seek to determine why this is the case using a mixed methods design that will fuse both qualitative and quantitative approaches.
Envisioned methodology and design
This proposed research will deploy a mixed methods approach: first of all, there will be a statistical analysis of trends in higher education at both the undergraduate and graduate level. Next, questionnaires will be submitted to a random selection of graduates and undergraduates of all races to better understand what motivates a person to seek higher education, what barriers exist, and what factors enhance or inhibit retention in school. This will be followed by a qualitative, experientially based interview process in which male and female African-American students will submit to semi-structured interviews to discuss their experiences in higher education. Student perceptions of their parents versus their teachers versus their own expectations of education will be assessed: For example, in a “random survey of 500 teachersalmost six out of every ten teachers did not believe that Black males would go to college. However, 80 percent of parents who responded to the survey believed that their sons would attend college; this result was nearly twice that of the college-going expectations for Black males held by teachers” (Review of Frierson, 2009). Student perceptions of this discrepancy will be one of the many questions assessed during the interview process.
The reason for using a mixed method design is that quantitative analysis is necessary for what is, in effect, a quantitatively determined problem regarding the male-female gap in higher education between African-American males and females. It is not enough to rely upon subjective impressions of what gender ‘feels’ more represented and to what degree, given that, the percentages being dealt with are still relatively small. In addition, there is value in the ability of quantitative research to cast a wide net in terms of the information it is able to capture. Surveying a large array of students will enable the research to better understand the factors that contribute to a student’s decision to attend and to remain in school. Anecdotal and incidental information is not adequate for this purpose.
On the other hand, it is still essential to let the subjects speak, given that there may be factors not immediately apparent to the researchers that are at the heart of the gender gap, hence the need for qualitatively based interviews. However, even qualitative interviews can have a statistical dimension in the form of ‘coded’ research, which will eventually allow the research to yield a ‘grounded’ theory about the discrepancy. Grounded theories are inductively rather than deductively based: the theory proceeds from the gathered information and the researcher does not enter into the information gathering process with a predetermined hypothesis. The variables studied will be race and gender and the decision to enter into undergraduate and graduate study.
Quantitative research is numerically driven and seeks to replicate the scientific method; qualitative research focuses on a small population in-depth and stresses recording observed and reported information with an empirical approach: by using both in mixed methods design. The goal is to obtain the best of both methods and balance the need for scientific research while still allowing the research subjects to speak with their own voices. The ability of African-American students to ‘speak’ within this research is essential, given the degree to which black voices have often been marginalized in discourses pertaining to race and education. Instead of merely problematizing the state of African-American education, it is vital that students have the ability to articulate their own experience with race. This is perhaps the greatest strength of qualitative research’s narrow focus. Nevertheless, the research cannot be so narrow and anecdotal that no useful information is revealed regarding how any problems, which arise, may need to be addressed.
This mixed methods approach will also allow the researcher to take a quasi-experiential research design. In contrast to qualitative, non-experimental research, which simply seeks to accumulate data without a control group, my quasi-experimental methodology will enable me to seek out information from individuals of all races currently in college, which will effectively function as a kind of control group or a contextualization of the experiences of African-American students. Of course, it will not be a pure experimental research design in the sense that there is no formal controls and there is no singular hypothesis, which the research is trying to prove or disprove—with the use of the structured, qualitative method of ‘grounded’ theory, the theoretical construct arrives after the accumulation of facts. “Grounded theory has considerable significance because it (a) provides explicit, sequential guidelines for conducting qualitative research; (b) offers specific strategies for handling the analytic phases of inquiry; (c) streamlines and integrates data collection and analysis; (d) advances conceptual analysis of qualitative data; and (e) legitimizes qualitative research as scientific inquiry” (Charmaz 2003).
The underlying theory behind the research process will be that of critical race and poststructuralist theory, namely that race and identity perceptions have an inevitable effect upon people’s lives given the weight that has been invested in these constructs throughout history. The historical legacy and impact of race upon African-Americans and their ability to obtain an education cannot be ignored. As noted by the Journal of African- American Males in Education: “From slavery to Jim Crow to todaychallenges of each era have served to facilitate generational barriers for Black males. During the age of segregation, African Americans were subjugated by the ‘separate but equal’ racial caste system which segregated African Americans from Whites with respect to marriage, schooling, and employment.” The Civil Rights struggle was in large part motivated by the need to secure equal education for African-American children who often exhibited extremely negative self-esteem as a result of the messaging they received from white society and because they were not able to fully participate in the education of their Caucasian peers. This messaging is likely to have had a strong impact upon the psyches of generations of African-American children that is not easily eradicated.
However, given that both African-American men and women have experienced the legacy of racism, the reasons for the gender divide remain unclear. There is also the question of the extent to which trends in the larger American community regarding the education of men and women may be affecting this trend. This is why a quantitative approach is needed, so the educational perceptions of a wide variety of racial categories can be assessed as well as obtaining a specific focus upon the experiences of African Americans.
With regards to the quantitative portion of the assignment, responses to surveys of all participants will be anonymous- which means that the personal information of the survey respondents will be kept confidential. The interview process will be purely voluntary. Bowman & Waite (2003) emphasized the importance of volunteerism or not forcing people to participate in research in maintaining data integrity and reliability. Accordingly, when samples (the survey respondents) in research are forced to participate, they will, most likely, not relay their sincere answers to the survey questions – this adversely affects data integrity and reliability. Note further that students will be informed of how their information will be used and the purpose of the research process. All promises of confidentiality shall be taken into account in the process of communicating and disseminating research results. The survey respondents will be asked to answer the survey forms with enough allocated time of 10 to 30 minutes. They will also be assisted in understanding the information contained the survey forms so as to make sure that they provide the appropriate answers (University of Minnesota Center for Bioethics, 2003, p. 3).
In framing and improving the research problems and in making the survey forms, the proposal of Rebecca D. Cox on how to conduct qualitative research will be followed. Cox (2012) identified two pressures or influences that may hinder the development or progress of novice education researchers. These two pressures are the “education policy environment,” and the “student’s particular degree program or departmental context” (130). With regards to first aforementioned pressure, Cox explained that novice researchers are faced with a dilemma in deciding which information serves as a valid, reliable proof and which does not. Unfortunately, qualitative researchers encounter more burdens in providing such proof with only qualitative information in their disposal. Cox further explains that in order to cope with such environment, the qualitative researcher is forced to do mixed methods. There is nothing wrong with a mixed method until quantitative data serves as the backbone for qualitative results - what this means is that the researcher is limited by the quantitative information that he or she has in formulating the methodologies for gathering qualitative information. The ultimate result of such practice in qualitative research is the inability of the research to capture the majority of the information needed to address the research problem or discover some subjects that need further research. With this pressure being considered in this research, this research will not use quantitative data as backbone for qualitative data gathering. The main purpose of the quantitative information in this research is to provide proof that there is indeed a gap between the number of African-American females and African-American males taking higher education. The quantitative information will help foster and frame the research problem. The qualitative information, on the other hand, will serve as proof and guidance for making recommendations in solving the research problem, and discovering other subjects which may need further studies in future researches. This mixed approach also allows the room for reviewing the hypothesis or research questions of this study. According to Cox (2012), one of the adverse effects of the first pressure is that novice researchers are forced to relinquish other facts that they gather using the qualitative approach; because, the former research questions or hypotheses do not align with the facts gathered.
The second pressure is that the “student’s particular degree program or departmental context” emphasize on quantitative methods over qualitative methods. This is the focus of the majority of degree programs because they want objectivity in research findings. Being subjective, which is a characteristic of qualitative data, is not encourage among academic departments. Nevertheless, Cox (2012) explained that a novice researcher can think objectively while using the qualitative method of research. One of the most effective ways in remaining objective while doing qualitative research is by establishing a constant consultation on senior advisers in the field of qualitative research. The constant communication with these people will allow the researcher to ask for feedback. Note that one major source of subjectivity is personal bias. Bias can be lessened if not totally eliminated by consultation and getting other people’s perspectives. In accordance with the proposal made by Cox, the research will be done with consistent and regular consultation with research advisers and research panel members, as well as with fellow researchers. Cox also suggested the creation of different sets of memos. “In qualitative methodology, the researcher is encouraged to reflect on the values and objectives he brings to his research and how these affect the research project” (Ratner, 2002). From these words taken from Ratner, the subjectivity of qualitative research can be lessen if the research consistently focus on the outcome and the research questions initially formulated in the creation of the study.
There are three kinds of memos proposed by Cox, “Researcher Identity Memo, Professional Identity Memo, and Graduate-Student Researcher Memo” (Cox, 2012, p. 131 – 132). The RIM or the Research Identification Memo consists of a list of personal beliefs that the researcher has. It also contains information on how the said beliefs might influence the outcome of the research. With this memo in hand, the researcher will be able to become mindful if he or she is crossing the line between subjectivity and objectivity. The second, PIM or Professional Identity Memo, contains three sets of information. The first set includes the educational problem that the research wants to solve. Note the research problem may vary slightly throughout the conduct of the research. The second set includes a list of school or university practices and policies that help define the problem. The third set is a list of organizations and individuals who will benefit from the research. The third memo, GSRM or Graduate-Student Researcher Memo, contains information on what they – the researchers – have learned about qualitative research. Such information can help the researcher in approaching the study objectively. This memo is also helpful in remembering the diverse qualitative research techniques that can be employed to conduct the research, and obtain the needed information for the research. In accordance with these suggestions made by Cox, the three types of memos will be made in this research. These three memos will be constantly consulted and updated as the research takes its course. Note, however that subjectivity cannot be eliminated in its entirety, but it can be lessened down to appoint that the bias becomes negligible so as to render the results useful for practical applications (Morgan & Drury, 2003).
All the aforementioned techniques in maintaining ethics from the framing of the research question, gathering of data, and presenting results will be implemented during the conduct of the research. Such will help assure that no people or organization is adversely affected by the research and that enough information is gathered to address the research questions and meet the research objectives.
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Charmaz, Kathy. (2003). Grounded theory. The SAGE Encyclopedia of Social Science Research Methods. Sage. Retrieved from: <http://guides.temple.edu/groundedtheory>.
Cox, R.D. (2012). Teaching Qualitative Research. Theory Into Practice, 51(1), p.129 – 136.
The gender gap. (2012). Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. Retrieved from: http://www.jbhe.com/2012/03/the-gender-gap-in-african-american-degree-attainments/
More women earn B.A. degrees than men. (2013). Huffington Post. Retrieved from: <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/10/post_644_n_821577.html>.
Morgan, A.K. and Drury, V.B. (2003). Legitimizing the subjectivity of human reality through qualitative research method. Retrieved from: <http://www.nova.edu/ssss/QR/QR8-1/morgan.html>.
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