Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Honors Dissertation Abstracts: A Bounded Qualitative Meta-Study

Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Honors Dissertation Abstracts: A Bounded Qualitative Meta-Study

Article excerpt

A potential source of useful information about undergraduate honors education can be found in doctoral dissertation abstracts that focus on honors. We sought to explore this resource by undertaking a bounded qualitative meta-study of such abstracts using document analysis. Three sub-questions focused our inquiry:

* What are the general attributes of dissertations on honors education?

* What are the thematic subjects and topics associated with the dissertations?

* Have these dissertation findings been published in higher education journals or books?

What follows is an account of our research, including information on the meta-study framework we used, our selection of the dissertations for analysis, and our methods and procedures for analyzing the dissertations. At the close of this article, we discuss our findings, summarize publication-related trends for dissertations on honors education, and provide recommendations for future research.


A meta-study framework explores and synthesizes research for the purpose of addressing specific research questions (Lipsey & Wilson). Most often, the meta-study is based on a quantitative approach (Glass) using effect size data to permit meaningful comparisons across a group of studies (Lipsey & Wilson). A qualitative framework can be an important strategy (Noblit & Hare; Major & Savin-Baden) when researchers seek to analyze studies for common themes. The qualitative framework can also be used to examine attributes of the research and researchers, as demonstrated in 2001 by Paterson, Thorne, Canam, and Jillings.

For our study, we used a qualitative meta-study framework limited to or bounded by a specific activity: the production of dissertation abstracts on honors education. Additionally, we selected a specific time period (1987-2006) in which the dissertations were produced to further bound and focus our analyses. In using a bounded qualitative approach, we were applying a specific meta-study framework used successfully in several recent studies on education, including Banning and Folkestad's 2011 study of education-related dissertations on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM); Davies, Dickmann, Harbour, & Banning's 2011 study on community college-related dissertations; and Banning & Kuk's 2009 and 2011 studies on dissertations covering collegiate student affairs organizations and residence life.


In 2007, Holman undertook a study on publications of research related to collegiate honors and to high-achieving, high-ability, and gifted and talented education. Her findings were detailed in a report to the External Relations Committee of the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) and disseminated broadly, both as an annotated bibliography and EndNote library files, in two NCHC National Conference sessions in Denver, Colorado, that same year. As part of her study, Holman (2007a) sought to locate dissertations on collegiate honors and on high-achieving, high-ability, and gifted and talented education in ProQuest. Using a list of 25 search terms, she located a total of 132 dissertations, which were incorporated into her EndNote reference library; this material was published in her Annotated Bibliography: Honors Research. We selected this subset of 132 dissertation-related entries for our qualitative meta-study framework and analyses. Before undertaking our review, we reran Holman's dissertation search in the current version of Digital Dissertations: ProQuest to include any additional data that might have been added to the ProQuest entries for the dissertations of interest.


Bounding the Sample

One of the primary research questions we had posed concerned the publication of dissertation-related findings in higher education journals or books. …

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