Course Title: Theoretical Frameworks for Higher Education Research

        Instructor Professor Pat McDonough
       Institution UCLA
Office Number 310.206.2120
E-mail address


- To understand the implications of higher education being a field of study and not a discipline with a unified body of theories and methods.

- Provide an overview of the various social science theories that are used to analyze the institutions and issues of contemporary higher education.

- Explain how theory and methodology affect research design and the framing of research questions in higher education, particularly explaining how conceptual frameworks are used in research and dissertation proposals.

- Introduce cognate possibilities.

- Explain how scholars of higher education conceptualize, produce, and consume research across a wide variety of disciplinary frameworks.

- Explain the role of theory in research, assess the value of good and bad theory, and test theory through research.

- Discuss and distinguish between: theories, paradigms, models, constructs, and operationalization of variables.

- To explain how one consumes and critiques existing research.

Weekly Format

- Student discussions and presentations to foster facility with using conceptual frameworks.

- Lectures on the research process, theories, models, paradigms, units and levels of analysis.


Class Discussion: The success of this class will be greatly influenced by the level of participation of all class members. Every student must come to each class having thoroughly read every reading and be prepared to discuss at length those readings, their theoretical insights, and their implications. Students will be graded on the amount and quality of their discussion participation. In addition, each week one-two student(s) will lead the discussion of a required reading by making a brief summary presentation (a handout is required) and then facilitating discussion. All students will be expected to discuss the readings. The discussion leader should be prepared with guidelines or questions for discussion.

Article Critique: Due on April 16, 1997 A five page critique of a journal article. Criteria for critique will be handed out in second class.

Problem Statement: Due on April 30, 1997 A five page double-spaced paper in which you identify a problem and the relevant research literature. Your research review should comprehensive, integrated, and concise.

Conceptual Framework: Due on May 21, 1997 A five page double-spaced paper based on the problem identified in the first paper spelling out the general theoretical framework and the specifics of how this theory relates to your problem. This explication of a conceptual framework will lay the foundation for the final paper in which will specify a research design for your topic.

Research Design: Due on June 4, 1995 A five page double-spaced paper which builds on the identified problem of the first paper and the conceptual framework of the second paper. Frame your research design by identifying the salient quantitative variables or qualitative concepts, specifying what kind of methodological approach your research will take, and finally, discussing the way that your theory shapes the definition and operationalization of variables. Your conclusions should contrast this framework with alternative ways of viewing the same problem (i.e. how might other theories shape this research differently).

Grading scheme:

April 2
Introduction to Class

April 9
Theories and the Nature of Knowledge Kuhn, Thomas S. 1962. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Pp. 1-91, 174-181.

Milam, J.H. 1991. "The Presence of Paradigms in the Core Higher Education Journal Literature." Research in Higher Education, 32: 651-668.

April 16
McDonough, P. M., Korn, J., & Yamasaki, E. 1997. "Access, Equity, and the Privatization of College Counseling." Review of Higher Education. 20: 297-317.

McDonough, P. M. 1994. "Buying and Selling Higher Education: The Social Construction of the College Applicant," Journal of Higher Education. 65: 427-446.

April 23
Creswell, John. 1994. Research Design: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. Chpt. 1 "A Framework for the Study," pp.1-16; Chpt. 2 "Use of the Literature," pp. 20-37; and Chpt. 3 "The Introduction to the Study," pp. 41-54.

April 30
David 1976. "Ways of Seeing: An Essay on the History of Compulsory Schooling." Harvard Educational Review. Vol. 36, No. 3. Pp. 355-389.

Creswell, John. 1994. Research Design: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. Chpt. 4 "The Purpose Statement," pp. 56-67.

May 7
Psychological Analysis Galotti, Kathleen and Melissa C. Mark. 1994. "How Do High School Students Structure An Important Life Decision? A Short-Term Longitudinal Study of the College Decision-making Process." Review of Higher Education. 35: 589-607.

May 14
Sociological Analysis Takagi, Dana. 1990. "From Discrimination to Affirmative Action: Facts in the Asian American Admissions Controversy." Social Problems. 37 (November):578--592

Creswell, John. 1994. Research Design: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. Chpt. 5 "Questions, Objectives, and Hypotheses," pp. 69-78.

May 21
Hossler, Don, John Braxton, and Georgia Coopersmith. 1989. "Understanding student college choice." In J. C. Smart (ed.) Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research. Volume V, NY: Agathon Press. Pp. 231-288.

Creswell, John. 1994. Research Design: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. Chpt. 6 "The Use of a Theory," pp. 81-101.

May 28
Organizational Analysis Karabel, Jerome. 1984. "Status Group Struggle, Organizational Interests, and the Limits of Institutional Autonomy: The Transformation of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, 1918-1940." Theory and Society. 13:1-40

June 4
Gary. 1992. "Money, Equity, and College Access." Harvard Educational Review. 62: 337-372.

Creswell, John. 1994. Research Design: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. Either Chpt. 8 "A Quantitative Method," pp. 116-139; or Chpt. 9 "A Qualitative Procedure," pp. 143-169.


In our effort to offer a comprehensive listing of syllabi to the Higher Education community, we encourage your contributions to our collection. Submit your syllabi using our submission form, or via e-mail at