CCWT conducts qualitative Community-Based Participatory Action Research (CBPAR) projects with university students that focus on central issues in higher education. CBPAR is a partnership approach to research that typically involves engagement between academic researchers and community actors with the aim of gaining a more grounded understanding of a given phenomenon. While social science research has traditionally derived part of its authority from an opposition between the researcher and the researched, CBPAR complicates this paradigm by partnering academic researchers and community actors through shared, collaborative decision-making that positions community members as researchers rather than objects of the research. While CBPAR approaches have been used in a variety of social settings, including youth organizations, K-12 schools, and prisons, they have not often been used in university settings. We contend that CBPAR offers an exciting and needed approach to studying issues in higher education because it not only includes the perspectives and experiences of higher education students—those who are often excluded from policy debates—but it also positions students in a researcher role to guide the research questions, approaches, data collection, and analysis. This approach produces theory that is conceptually innovative as well as action-oriented, which can inform activism, pedagogy, policy debates, and policy implementation.
CCWT researchers are currently partnering with Students of Color at three universities to examine the sociocultural and institutional factors influencing the college experiences, educational success, and post-college transitions of Students of Color. This multi-sited study, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, involves interviews and participant observations with current students, former students, and university staff to help analyze institutional context and climate.
The three student-led CBPAR research studies include:
Documenting the aims of higher education in Wisconsin
The high costs of higher education and its benefits to students and to society are central issues in the legislative and public debate on the role of higher education in the state. Yet too often debates about higher education, and its ultimate purpose for students and the public, do not include the perspectives and experiences of community members from different walks of life. In order to enrich and inform this debate, CCWT worked with a team of UW students to conduct interviews with Wisconsin residents to document and identify their views on the aims of higher education and subsequent implications for public policy. Documenting the Aims of Higher Education Report