Guidelines for Conducting Research at Oregon Community Colleges

Oregon community colleges are experiencing significant increases in demands for data and information in response to federal, state and local accountability expectations. In addition, due to technological improvements, internal decision-making processes have become more information-based than in previous decades.
These pressures occur at a time when Oregon community colleges also face severe fiscal and human resource limitations. Therefore, colleges must ensure that requests for research assistance from external sources complement and support internal needs and reporting mandates, as well as produce results which are reliable, relevant, and useful.
While intended for audiences external to individual colleges, the following principles also provide basic guidelines for internal research projects.

Like research conducted on individual campuses, research requests from external agencies or individuals should aim to improve college curricula, services, and operations through enhanced understanding of community college customers and their needs. These research guidelines aim to:
  • ensure that research questions are of value to community colleges;
  • ensure that research methodology will yield valid and reliable answers to the research questions; and
  • provide a mechanism for reviewing research requests.
Through implementation of these guidelines, community colleges seek to become strong partners in conducting efficient and effective research regarding students and college operations.

In this document, "research" refers to any inquiry which requires gathering information not readily available through existing data sources. Research activities generally involve some form of measurement (e.g., surveys, interviews, observations, focus groups, testing). Research frequently (a) converts human activities or characteristics to data; (b) arrives at generalizations about groups of people, events, or operations; and/or (c) infers causal relationships.
The term "methodology" refers to the principles and procedures to be used in planning and conducting the research project. Research methodology includes information such as:
  • specific research questions;
  • definitions of terms or concepts;
  • underlying issues, assumptions, or concerns;
  • intended use of the results;
  • intended audiences for the results;
  • time lines for project design, implementation, analyses, and reporting;
  • proposed source(s) of data or information;
  • sampling parameters and procedures;
  • the format and content of instrumentation (e.g., surveys, interview or focus group questions);
  • associated materials (e.g., cover letters, introductory remarks, verbal or written directions);
  • procedures for gathering and analyzing data;
  • anticipated levels of confidence; and
  • format, availability and distribution of results.

Basic Principles
The following eight principles provide a framework for conducting research in Oregon community colleges. The principles are not presented in priority order.
The researcher must:
  • identify the connection between the proposed research project and the mission of Oregon community colleges. Whenever possible, the proposed research should promote the assessment of community colleges' goals and measures of institutional effectiveness (based on performance measures, such as those identified in the Commissioner's Task Force on Accountability: Final Report, October 1992);
  • provide opportunities for participating colleges to review and give feedback on the research methodology;
  • recognize the time required to (a) plan and execute a research activity in an educational environment and (b) review draft products or instruments;
  • follow basic survey or interview methodology. This includes considerations regarding statement of the problem, selection of subjects, construction and validation of instruments, preparation of supportive materials, and utilization of results. (See attached for a bibliography of survey research materials);
  • provide appropriate mechanisms to ensure the protection of human subjects in compliance with Federal regulations [e.g., Protection of Human Subjects (45 CFR 46) as revised March 3, 1983 and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (20 USC 1232g)]. This protection includes acknowledging that student and employee participation is voluntary and applying appropriate standards of confidentiality;
  • recognize rights faculty members have to control the classroom environment and the use of instructional time;
  • make research products available to participating colleges in draft and final forms; and
  • bear the cost of conducting the research, whenever feasible.
Decisions to participate in proposed research activities will weigh the anticipated value of the research against the potential disruption of the teaching/learning environment and the availability of resources.

Research Guidelines
The following guidelines shall be used by agencies, organizations, businesses, or individuals seeking to conduct research in Oregon community colleges:
  • Sufficient time will be given for colleges to:
    • clarify research questions and review and respond to the proposed research methodology.
    • obtain institutional commitment and student/employee agreement to participate.
    • gather the data or information.
    • review draft reports or presentations of survey results for factual accuracy.
  • If students and/or faculty are involved:
    • the optimum time to conduct research is between the fourth and eighth weeks of a term.
    • times to be avoided each term include the first two weeks and last two weeks and exam week.
    • no course section should be used more than once per term.
    • the amount of class time required should be limited to 20 minutes.
  • Research occurring in classrooms requires faculty consent, as well as approval from appropriate academic or student administrators.
  • Interviews or focus groups:
    • must be conducted from a pre-designed instrument.
    • may use college facilities on a "space available" basis.
  • Research methodology must be submitted for prior review and comment to:
    • individual college (if one institution is involved) for review by institutional research staff and/or other appropriate personnel; or
    • a research review panel (if statewide or multiple institutions are involved). The panel will be convened by the Office of Community College Services or a member of the Institutional Research Group.
  • At a minimum, the research methodology must include:
    • clear descriptions of issue(s) leading to the research request, specific research questions, and the intended audience and use of results.
    • copies of research instruments.
    • descriptions of sampling techniques.
    • clear data definitions.
    • description of procedures to ensure confidentiality and protection of human subjects.
    • outline of the format for publication and distribution of results.
If special circumstances require departure from these guidelines (e.g., significantly shortened response time, different methodology), reasonable efforts to answer such inquiries or to infer answers from existing data will be made.

The research guidelines are intended to promote effective, efficient, collaborative research in Oregon community colleges. The guidelines will be reviewed on a periodic basis to ensure currency, flexibility, and appropriateness.

Further Information
Office of Community College Services
255 Capital Ave NE
Salem, OR 97310

Suggested Readings
Backstrom, Charles H. And Gerald D. Hursh. Survey Research. Northwestern University Press, 1963.
Berdie, Doug R. Et al. Questionnaires: Design and Use (2nd Edition). Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1986.
Bradburn, Norm M. et al. Improving Interview Method and Questionnaire Design. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1981.
Ferber, Robert et al. What is a Survey?. Washington, D.C.: American Statistical Association, 1980.
Gay, L.R. Educational Research (3rd Edition). Columbus, Ohio: Merrill Publishers.
Oppenheim, A.N. Questionnaire Design and Attitude Measurement. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1966.
Patton, Michael Quinn. Qualitative Evaluation Methods. Beverly Hills, California: Sage Publications, 1980.
Suskie, Linda A. Questionnaire Survey Research. Tallahassee, Florida: Association for Institutional Research, 1992

Last updated: 4/22/2015