Seeing the Forest for the Trees: Contribution of Research on Higher Education

Document Type



Educational Studies (CGU)

Publication Date



Education | Educational Assessment, Evaluation, and Research


Recently, in "Forum," George Keller criticized the state of higher education research ('Trees With- out Fruit," January/February, 1985), accusing its practitioners of everything from excessive study of trivialities to inexcusably poor writing. If that re- search ended, he argued, "it would scarcely be missed."

I believe he articulated and developed a perception that has been strongly held, but rarely expressed, by many ac- ademics. In so doing, he performed a valuable service.

My brief is that Keller has it right about a number of "trees" but misses the forest. Some of the problems he raises are found in every research field; and, his arguments that higher educa- tion research is little used are over- stated. Moreover, at root, Keller's thesis embodies fundamental misconceptions about the transmission of knowledge. As a result, important contributions of re- search are ignored, and he has little to say by way of constructive advice.

Here, I'll describe (a) an alternative model of the relationship between re- search and policy, (b) some valuable contributions of higher education re- search, and (c) steps for improving the quality and impact of that research.

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©1986 Taylor & Francis

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