Proposing and Justifying a Research Method and Design Research Paper

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gender discrepancies in regards to African-American education. There has been a noticeable, growing increase of 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 a 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.

The African-American gender gap in higher education:

Proposing and justifying a research method and design

Introduction

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 also a gender divide within the African-American community itself: "data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that in 2011, 18% 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% 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% of women surveyed earned a bachelor's degree -- compared with only 14% of men," making women 60% 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% of Black men hold at least a four-year college degree. For Black women ages 25 to 29, 22.9% 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 vs. their teachers vs. their own expectations of education will be assessed: For example, in a "random survey of 500 teachers…almost six out of every ten teachers did not believe that Black males would go to college. However, 80% 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. Also, there is a value in the ability of quantitative research to cast a fairly 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 hopefully yield a 'grounded' theory about the discrepancy. Grounded theories are inductively rather than deductively-based: the theory proceeds from the gathered factual 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 a mixed methods design the hope is to obtain the 'best of both worlds' and balance the need for scientific research while still allowing the subjects of the research to speak with their own voices. This ability of African-American students to 'speak' within the 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. But 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 me 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 the 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).

Theoretical perspective

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 today…challenges 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…[continue]

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