The goal of this phenomenological qualitative study is to examine the lived experiences of African American women participants seeking higher education. The study examines, identifies, and analyzes specific barriers and challenges faced by African American women when they plan to obtain a higher education. The secondary objective of the research is to understand how African American women can overcome barriers and obstacles to higher education. The study will explore what strategies helped the women achieve entry and success, as these participants have had firsthand experience in this area, enabling a better understanding of the identified impediments, challenges, and personal solutions.
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The key objective of the study design is arriving at the description explaining a specific phenomenon. Phenomenological studies are associated with qualitative research focused on the commonality of a certain experience within a group of people (Padilla-Díaz, 2015). Because of this, the type of current study is the best use for the research as it will demonstrate the nature of experiences of a population, both positive and negative.
Phenomenological research is suitable due to the fact at the stage of data collection, the researcher will interview individuals who have first-hand knowledge of the subject. Also, other data forms can be used for supporting the research; for instance, observations, and reviews of documents.
It is important to have a clear understanding of the different approaches available for collecting information and data. The method chosen will affect the results and how the findings are reported. The researcher decided to use qualitative research instead of a quantitative research study. Qualitative modes of data analysis provide ways of discerning, examining, comparing and contrasting, and interpreting meaningful patterns or themes. Qualitative researchers are concerned with an individual’s perceptions of the world, and these researchers interact with those that they are researching (Castella, 2010).
Quantitative research refers to a structured way of collecting and analyzing data that has been obtained from various sources. Quantitative research aims at quantifying the problem through generating numerical data which can be applied via statistical means. Quantitative research is normally applied to quantify opinions, behaviors, attitudes, and other definable variables, which are then used to generalize results about a larger population. Quantitative research, therefore, uses measurable data which is used to make inferences about the larger population (Muijs, 2010).
Discussion of Literature Review
Literature is the first important brick for building a solid base for good research. All literature is written from a particular perspective or viewpoint. Various research studies have shown that institutional processes in many community colleges tolerate and excuse various types of negative behavior, shaming, biases, and prejudice in campus life. These factors, including a lack of support from mentors, college administrators, and faculty in the colleges, have played a huge role in augmenting discrimination against minorities, specifically African American women (Lutz et al., 2013; Maton et al., 2011).
According to McCoy (2014), the phenomenological approach is actively used by sociologists, psychologists, and other specialists who conduct qualitative research to examine the perceptions and opinions of individuals regarding concrete social situations, experiences, or phenomena. In the context of studying the barriers faced by African American women in higher education, McCoy suggests that it is essential to start exploring individuals’ real-life experiences. This aids in gathering data from real-life occurrences as they are lived and understood by the participant. It aids in obtaining an authentic and unfiltered picture of challenges that impact peoples’ lives (McCoy, 2014, p. 157). This helps to obtain preconceptions, judgments, and set biases from the feeling expressed in the issue.
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The Gap of Research
It is imperative to figure out techniques women in the current society are using, especially with the increasing number of women obtaining degrees in higher education. The need to recognize and address obstacles to higher education for African American women at all stages of the research process is widely recognized and has been extensively discussed. In summary, the opinion poll’s results revealed that little attention has been given to studies on overcoming barriers and obstacles to higher education for African American women (Baber, 2012; Charleston, 2012; Felder & Barker, 2013).
The identified gap in research points to the need to pay more attention to the perspectives of African American women in study literature. The lack of empirical studies that explored the barriers to higher education for the identified population can be addressed through offering a comprehensive look at the perspectives of African American women regarding their higher education opportunities (Whittaker, Montgomery, & Martinez Acosta, 2015). Comparisons can be drawn through considering educational disparities that other populations face, especially with those who have been studied the most in the research literature.
To come up with research questions, it was necessary to consider individual perspectives of real people as well as experiences they could have encountered in their everyday life. As the key focus of research is associated with comparing the opportunities and barriers to accessing high education, the two research questions aimed to address this objective.
After reading some available literature regarding the limitations associated with the high education of African American women, it has become evident that scholars did not pay much attention to the perspectives of real people but mentioned existing challenges from a generalized perspective (Shields, Newman, & Satz, 2017). Therefore, research questions 1 and 2 (RQ1 and RQ2) aim at offering a researcher an ability to compare and contrast opportunities and gaps in education.
The researcher explored the following research questions in depth as African American women described their barriers and challenges through exploratory discussions of their experiences planning for and attaining higher education at PGCC:
- RQ1: What challenges and barriers, if any, do African American women face when furthering education?
- RQ2: What options are available for overcoming these challenges and barriers?
The research design of the present study is focused on allowing the scholar to study personal perspectives of African American women in regards to their opportunities and limitations in high education. The importance of the phenomenological approach is explained by the need to collect insights from real people and determine their attitudes of a particular phenomenon. Interviews are considered the most appropriate for the chosen research design and answering the questions because they offer the ground to ask follow-up questions as well as fuel discussions between the respondents and the interviewer.
The aim is to ensure that the researcher gets the true experiences of the people who experienced the phenomena. There are, however, other instances where phenomenological research may be conducted through observations. The research design of this study will utilize the phenomenological approach, as proposed by Moustakas (1994), to focus on African American women’s narratives regarding their lived experiences in planning for and attending community colleges. A variety of methods can be used in phenomenological research that includes interviews and focuses group meetings.
The main barriers faced by African American women are challenges of exclusion, bias associated with affirmative action, isolation, lack of support, stereotyping, victimization, gender biases, and exclusions from the research. It is imperative to figure out techniques women in the current society are using, especially with the increasing number of women obtaining degrees in higher education. Furthermore, the research can help in the provision of knowledge to the
concerned people in helping more women achieve their dreams by supporting them in their pursuit of higher education (Lutz, Hassouneh, Akeroyd, & Beckett, 2013, p. 128; Maton, Wimms, Grant, & Wittig, 2011).
The eligible research participants will be African American women eighteen and older who are obtaining an Associate’s degree, without regard for marital status, religion, or employment. These women identify themselves as African American. Staff at PGCC who is not a member of the IRB Team and who work directly with or have access to African American women.
It was chosen to focus on the population of African American women because of the lack of studies reflecting the opportunities and challenges they face in high education. According to Wright and Salinas Jr. (2016) who focused on the status of African American women in the academe of predominantly white institutions, this group was often silenced while others were privileged. In terms of staff, the researchers employed a transcriber for data collection; a colleague was asked to fulfill the role and was paid for his time.
For this research project, it is calculated that 10-15 interviewees will be sufficient to generate a list of core themes. The wide range age group is chosen because it will help in exploring all barriers to higher education that may be experienced by African American women. For this study anyone who identifies themselves as AA and staff who work directly with them.
The research settled on the African American population by reviewing the racial distribution of high education classrooms. Inclusion criteria for the sample are an individual identifying as female, being of African American descent, having high education history, or not having the opportunity to attend a high education facility. The listed criteria for inclusion were used for ensuring that the population recruited for the study offers an unbiased perspective on the problem.
Exclusion criteria for the study included biological women identifying as men, and belonging to the staff of an educational facility. It was imperative to ensure that potential participants who were the educational staff of a college or university did not participate in the research. They could have offered a biased look at the problem because they could be protective of their workplaces and would not acknowledge problems in access that could have existed.
Planning for and conducting a research study required many steps, the first step is to layout the objective of the study. After the researcher makes the determination, of how they will develop their questionnaire, they will decide the mode of data collection (e.g., mail, telephone, or in-person). Data collection is imperative to the effectiveness and efficiency of any survey (O’Sullivan, Rassel, & Berner, 2008).
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The type of data collected in the result of interviews is considered qualitative due to the focus on interviews as a method. The responses of the interviewed participants cannot be measured quantitatively and therefore requires a thematic analysis or other forms of qualitative analysis. In terms of phenomenological research, qualitative data is suitable for exploring the perspectives of participants and answering the research questions identified earlier.
Data Collection Techniques
The study collected data through face to face interviews, lasting no more than 60 minutes. The phenomenological interview describes the meaning of a phenomenon that African American women share (Marshall & Rossman, 2006).
- All data will be anonymous’ means removing all participant’s names. The names of the participant will be replaced with pseudonyms. This study involves the use of digital voice recorders to gather information.
- Open-ended questionnaires (see Appendix A). This type of research question was chosen because of the need to offer respondents an opportunity to elaborate. In comparison with close-ended questions, the open-ended are less restrictive and will reveal the necessary level of detail.
- Field Testing (see Appendix B)
A field test was conducted by a subject matter expert (SME). The purpose of this requested field test is to ensure that the interview questions:
- are appropriate for the vulnerable population and/or sensitive topic,
- will not unnecessarily put participants through distress or discomfort
- make sense.
Field testing is important in qualitative research because of the focus on the unguided and natural contextual exploration of a phenomenon by collecting the feedback of potential participants (Austin & Sutton, 2014). A successful field test is likely to reveal an unbiased perception of the proposed study and thus provide resolve any issues and barriers before implementing phenomenological research. Ten participants were chosen to be involved in the field test to determine possible mistakes that should not happen during the actual investigation.
- Procedure (confidentiality)
The researcher will ensure anonymity and confidentiality. The identity of participants will be protected with the help of consent forms, and careful selection of participants. The researcher will not collect any direct identifiers, such as names or email addresses, and no information that would allow someone to identify the participants.
The recruitment method that the researcher will be used to request for participants is to place flyers in common areas approved by the IRB committee.
The interview was held in different IRB approved locations throughout the Largo campus.
Instruments used for collecting data for analysis cover a broad spectrum of tools. Initially, the researcher represented the key instrument in the study because they were the ones to be directly engaged in the process of data collection through interviewing participants. Some technological instruments were used to aid in the data collection. These included a computer, an audio recorder for their further transcription, and data analysis software. The transcriber was responsible for transferring the taped information into the written form for further data analysis.
The identified list of instruments: the researcher, the transcriber, a computer, and a tape recorder would aid in the present phenomenological research because they were simple, effective, and did not require any specialized knowledge to use them effectively. Through most of the study, the researcher played the role of the key instrument because they conducted a field test. Also, he or she developed interview questions, contacted potential participants, interviewed respondents, and audiotaped the conversations.
The questions that the interviewer asked the African American women participants were all based on their perceptions of the benefits and barriers existing in the sphere of higher education. In terms of formed consent, after the study was explained, the participants were provided consent forms that they read and signed thus agreeing to be involved in the study. For the data analysis section of the research, Nvivo software was the main tool used. It is a qualitative analysis software for reducing the time necessary to go through interview transcripts. The aid of data analysis software was necessary within the context of qualitative research not only for the reduction of time but also for the efficient management of data that could not have been achieved manually.
The qualitative analysis allows for an in-depth understanding of the research subject to be acquired. Data analysis of the phenomenological research study relied on converting the interview into a transcript of the respondents’ experiences, their structural descriptions, and a combination of both the textual and structural descriptions. Data analysis followed a cyclic process. First, the researcher read each interview transcript several times to get a sense of immersion.
The most significant statements made by the interviewees were then noted. These were the statements that provided an understanding of the feelings of the respondents. These responses were then integrated to form core themes that were at a higher level of abstraction. The researcher compared the themes to determine connections and relations. The themes were analyzed and the main concepts from the data were interpreted. This formed the basis for explaining the experiences of the respondents (Smith, 2015).
The qualitative data obtained as a result of interviews was the focus of the current data analysis. The interviews were audiotaped and then transcribed into a written document used for further data analysis. While the researcher audiotaped the data, the transcribed was responsible for completing the rest of the preparation; both master and working copies were kept.
In the context of phenomenological research, coding and thematic analysis of the interviews represent the key data analysis methods. Through finding commonalities among the responses of participants in terms of their experiences with higher education, themes will be identified (De Chesnay, 2015). These were developed by using codes that help identify the most important aspects of developed items within data collection.
Software used and where the data was kept: The researcher will keep all data/information that was provided in a safe in the researcher home safe.
To ensure that the study goes on successfully, the researcher developed several procedural steps for data collection. The first step was concerned with handing out flyers to potential participants to engage them in the study. Students were also included when handing out flyers because they could have encountered some severe limitations when accessing a high education facility. This was done at PCCG IRB approved locations; when the researcher approached potential participants, they explained the purpose of the study. Informing potential interviewees about the procedure and its implications for future studies was a step necessary for enticing an interest and engaging the public in the problem.
For participants concerned with the issue of confidentiality, the researcher ensured a reliable coding system (using numbers) to protect the interviewees’ identity in the process of data collection. This method allowed the researcher to keep track of responses given by different participants without revealing their identity. It is important to protect the identity of participants because of their crucial role in volunteering to be involved in the present study. Assigning codes to each participant allowed to keep their identity anonymous while preserving structure during data analysis.
To facilitate effective communication between the researcher and study participants, an email address was secured that participants can use to contact the scholar. As the present study did not imply any potential risks, the participants were encouraged to share any concerns that they may have. The benefits of participation will be explained to participants before conducting the interviews; they will be addressed from the perspective of racial injustice and bias. Participants’ signature will also be obtained before conducting the interview.
The concept of validity was formulated by Kelly (1927, p. 14) who stated that a test is valid if it measures what it claims to measure. To assess the quality of findings in a phenomenological study, it is necessary to take several measures to address validity. To guarantee the credibility or validity of the study findings, it is important to formulate effective interview questions and make multiple notes during the analysis procedure. These notes were necessary to code the gathered data effectively and then identify all relevant themes that are successfully retrieved using efficient strategies for conducting phenomenological interviews (Leung, 2015; Mohamad et al., 2015).
As validity is concerned with the extent to which an instrument measured what it was supposed to measure, it is important to mention whether the study was valid (Mohajan, 2017). At the stage of data collection, validity was achieved through interviews revealing the attitudes of participants. Because of this, the study design and methods had to reflect the validity of the research.
When elaborating on validity in research methodology, it is imperative to consider both internal and external validity. While the former is affected by design flaws, the latter is associated with the level to which findings can be generalized. Internal validity in the current study was achieved through establishing a reliable data collection procedure that led to the effective interpretation of data. External validity in the current research is reflected by the applicability of the findings to other contexts. For instance, similar disparities in access to high education can be experienced by females of other ethnic backgrounds, especially those from minority populations.
Austin, Z., & Sutton, J. (2014). Qualitative research: getting started. The Canadian Journal of Hospital Pharmacy, 67(6), 436-40.
De Chesnay, M. (2015). Nursing research using data analysis: Qualitative designs and methods in nursing. New York, NY: Springer.
Mohajan, H. (2017). Two criteria for good measurements in research: Validity and reliability. Annals of Spiru Haret University, 17(3), 58-82.
Padilla-Díaz, M. (2015). Phenomenology in educational qualitative research: Philosophy as science or philosophical science? International Journal of Educational Excellence, 1(2), 101-110.
Whittaker, J. A., Montgomery, B. L., & Martinez Acosta, V. G. (2015). Retention of Underrepresented minority faculty: Strategic initiatives for institutional value proposition based on perspectives from a range of academic institutions. Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education: JUNE: A publication of FUN, Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience, 13(3), A136-45.
Wright, D., & Salinas Jr., C. (2016). African American women leaders in higher education. Advances in Educational Administration, 25, 91-105.
Yilmaz, K. (2013). Comparison of quantitative and qualitative research traditions: Epistemological, theoretical, and methodological differences. European Journal of Education, 48(2), 311-325.
Shields, L., Newman, A., & Satz, D. (2017). Equality of educational opportunity. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web.
Questions for African American Women
- What challenges and barriers do African-American women face when furthering education?
- What options are available for overcoming the challenge and barriers?
- Could you describe the journey or process of thinking about a college degree? What is it like for you?
- How did you feel when you applied to PGCC? And when you were admitted? What is it like to be a student here?
- Could you tell me a specific story about adjustment to college? (if a participant has trouble describe the experience).
- What is different from what you expected?
- How are friends and classmates important? Faculty? Staff?
- Discuss the role of college policies in supporting your goals; what you would change if you could?
- Were there cultural and social issues to overcome in planning for higher education?
- What is your current experience as a student at PGCC?
- What are your strengths? Support systems?
- Have people and programs in the college supported your goals? How?
Questions for staff
- What are the demographics of administrative and leadership staff at your institution?
- What institutional procedures are in place to address potential barriers to success for African American women?
- What are your concerns of potential barriers to student success overall, including African American women, and how do current college guidelines, policies, and programs address these obstacles to overcome them?