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Factors that Influence the Use of Qualitative Methods by Institutional Researchers

Douglas R Ducharme, Johnson & Wales University


Institutional research provides information to support planning, policy, and decision making in higher education (Saupe, 1990). Because of their backgrounds, institutional researchers tend to prefer quantitative methods (Howard & Borland, 2007). But as institutional research functions evolve (Voorhees & Hinds, 2012), institutional researchers must apply existing and new skills, such as the use of qualitative and mixed methods, in order to facilitate organizational planning and change (Swing, 2009). The purpose of this sequential explanatory mixed methods study was to investigate the factors that influence the use of qualitative methods by institutional researchers. The research focused on institutional researchers' characteristics and their perceptions about qualitative methods concerning familiarity, suitability for institutional research functions, differences among groups, relationships among factors, best practices, and challenges. The Association of Institutional Research (AIR) assisted in the study and launched a web-based questionnaire to AIR members affiliated with U.S. higher education institutions (N = 573). The relationships identified in the quantitative phase of the study by using descriptive statistics, causal-comparative, and correlational analyses were further examined during the qualitative phase, in which the researcher conducted telephone interviews with volunteers who completed the questionnaire (N = 14). Themes were derived from interview information through content analysis using ATLAS.ti software. This study found that institutional researchers (N = 147) with doctorates had significantly more positive perceptions of and familiarity with qualitative methods than those without a doctorate. But degree level, perceptions, and familiarity failed to explain their use of qualitative methods. Institutional researchers from small institutions (n = 11) made significantly more use of qualitative methods than those from large institutions (n = 59). Institutional cultures that perceive qualitative findings as credible were also related to use of these methods by institutional researchers. Professional development efforts are needed for institutional researchers, particularly for those without doctorates, to prepare them to make better use of qualitative methods. Development and expansion of their skills and knowledge concerning multiple ways to undertake research will enable them to assist their institutional leaders in planning for the future.

Subject Area

Higher Education Administration|Educational leadership

Recommended Citation

Ducharme, Douglas R, "Factors that Influence the Use of Qualitative Methods by Institutional Researchers" (2014). Dissertation & Theses Collection. AAI3621977.