What program attributes in universities in developing countries contribute to positive learning outcomes for students?
In regards to identifying attributes, I addressed two sub-questions:
What actions do stakeholders engage in to develop the attributes?
What effects do these actions have on improving students’ learning outcomes?
To identify program attributes that influence students’ learning outcomes , I used grounded theory, an inductive approach that generated a theory based on data I collected from 60 interviewees that participated in this study.
I interviewed 48 participants mainly from two Ecuadorian Universities: Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ) and Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador (PUCE) (December 2001 & January 2002).
I interviewed 11 participants from Latin America and one from the United States (Costa Rica, June & July 2003).
Constant Comparative Method
My research consisted of methodical data collection, coding, and analysis aimed at developing a theory.
This constant comparative method comprises: (1) comparing incidents applicable to each category; (2) integrating categories and their properties; (3) delimiting the theory; and (4) writing the theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967).
Multi-case Study Design
I used an open, multi-case study design along with the “positioned subject” approach.
For this multi-case study design, I organized my research around a sampling strategy in the selected programs and interviewees.
Business Administration & Biotechnology (Professions)
To triangulate the findings, I interviewed people who differed in terms of level of responsibility and level of interest.
Consonant with my positioned subject approach, I used focused interviews to obtain in-depth information.
To engage institutional administrators, program administrators, and faculty in conversations, I provided them with the topic to be covered.
Students were interviewed in focus groups.
Based on Haworth and Conrad’s three basic strategies to enhance trustworthiness, I used a cross-program analysis.
In order to label categories and subcategories, the information was coded according to the major attributes of program quality that I identified in this study .
Select stakeholder groups (institutional administrators, program administrators, faculty, students, alumni, and employers)
Analysis process (exchanged notes and observations from interviews).
Extensive data analysis (reexamined inferences and the evidentiary basis for each and every finding by continually asking one another questions about both the process and the product of the study ).
Sampling Strategy and Procedures
My sample at the two Ecuadorian universities and with the diverse Latin American leaders in the business field was selected by using the “positioned subject approach” that grounded my research in the perspective of diverse stakeholders (Haworth & Conrad, 1997: 16).
The capability to separate the pertinent from that which isn’t ( Strauss & Corbin, 1990).
I understood that there were challenges related to theoretical sensibility because this study is qualitative and it, by definition, contains subjective interpretations of data.
 FEPE: Ecuadorian Private Universities Federation.  FENAUPE: Ecuadorian Universities and Polytechnic Schools Federation.  FENAUPE: Ecuadorian Universities and Polytechnic Schools Federation. Country Institution Interviewees Total Participants from Ecuadorian Universities 48 Ecuador CONESUP Academic Director 1 1 Ecuador USFQ Chancellor Vice-Chancellor Deans Directors Professors Students Alumnus Employer 1 1 2 2 5 8 1 1 21 Ecuador PUCE Rector Vice-Rector Deans Directors Professors Administrators Students Alumni Employer 1 1 2 2 7 1 7 2 1 24 Ecuador FEPE FENAUPE College Student Association Leaders 1 1 2
 FEPE: Ecuadorian Private Universities Federation.  FENAUPE: Ecuadorian Universities and Polytechnic Schools Federation.  FENAUPE: Ecuadorian Universities and Polytechnic Schools Federation. Participants from the United States and various Latin American Countries 12 United States University of California – Santa Cruz 1 1 Chile Fundación de Educación 1 1 Colombia Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana Universidad Nacional Facultad de Minas 1 1 2 Costa Rica Universidad Latina de Costa Rica 1 1 Ecuador Universidad Católica de Guayaquil Universidad Laica Vicente Rocafuerte Universidad del Azuay Universidad Estatal de Guayaquil 1 1 1 1 4 El Salvador Universidad José Simeón Cañas Universidad Politécnica 1 1 2 Perú Pontificia Universidad Católica de Perú 1 1 Total number of interviewees 60
I analyzed data following the four stage process.
I used the guiding question and the regulations to record in a codebook—on a program-by-program basis—attributes that at least three stakeholders considered significant.
Systematically refining and testing attributes of program quality to construct a preliminary theory of program quality. I used the list of program attributes contained in the codebook that resulted from the first stage of this process.
“ Theoretical Saturation.” I delimited and tested the theory by discriminating among the inventory of program attributes.
Consistent with Haworth and Conrad (1997), for each attribute the theory included the actions taken by stakeholders to enact the attribute and the effects that these learning outcomes had on student development.
The fourth stage in the constant comparative method, was writing a theory of program quality.
I identified 13 attributes of high-program quality and grouped them into five clusters: (1) highly qualified participants, (2) learning-centered cultures, (3) interactive teaching and learning, (4) connected program requirements, and (5) adequate resources.
Attributes of High-Quality Programs In Latin American Universities and in Ecuadorian Universities
Cluster One Highly Qualified Participants Attributes Actions Positive Outcomes
Highly Qualified Faculty
¨ University authorities develop hiring polices to attract professors with advanced degrees (from first-rate universities). ¨ University authorities develop a reward structure that recognizes the achievements of faculty. ¨ Students become more creative, honest, and confident professionals and leaders because they learn from excellent professors. ¨ Students become more committed to their professions as well as more inspired and confident professionals because they learn from highly qualified faculty.
Highly Qualified Students
¨ Faculty and administrators establish admissions policies based on their institutional mission and on pre-established quality standards to attract full-time students who will invest in their learning. ¨ University authorities through the higher education system introduce a national admission test to ensure high admission standards. ¨ Students learn how to motivate one another to invest their best efforts to achieve high-academic standards. ¨ Students learn to encourage one another to become more fully devoted to their professions.
Cluster Two Learning-Centered Cultures Attributes Actions Positive Outcomes
Shared Program Direction Focused on Learning
¨ Faculty and administrative leaders invite stakeholders to join them in developing shared program direction . ¨ University authorities invite faculty, students, alumni, and employers to participate in assessment efforts in which they study the fit between their program’s teaching and learning activities and its overall direction. ¨ Shared program direction focused on learning helps students to develop a clearer sense of professional direction and a better consciousness of where and how they wish to invest their professional energies upon graduation. 4. Real-World Learning Experiences ¨ Introduce more realistic curricular design with focus on the development of learning skills through case analysis to enrich the learning process. ¨ Provide experiential learning through the development of real project for the productive sector and industries. ¨ Students acquire connected learning experiences, as well as develop the necessary skills to face real-world challenging experiences
Cluster Two Learning-Centered Cultures Attributes Actions Positive Outcomes 5. Reading-Centered Culture ¨ Administrators and faculty introduce policies to promote a “reading-centered culture.” ¨ Students read more and develop more creative thinking; in turn, they are better able to contribute with new ideas grounded in knowledge. 6. Supportive and Risk-Taking Environment ¨ Faculty and administrators develop a supportive learning environment in which students feel confident to take risks by questioning paradigms and confronting knowledge. ¨ Students who engage in risk-taking activities develop their critical thinking ability and learn to confront what is already known with the unknown. ¨ Students become more empowered professionals.
Cluster Three Interactive Teaching and Learning Attributes Actions Positive Outcomes 7. Integrative learning: Theory with Practice, Self with Subject ¨ Faculty, administrators, and students develop hands-on learning experiences through team-work activities that connect theory with practice. ¨ Students who participate in integrative learning activities develop an enhanced practical and logical problem-solving ability. ¨ Students become more adept at communicating theoretical and technical knowledge to others, especially by enhancing their interpersonal skills. 8. Exclusive Tutoring and Mentoring ¨ Professors provide personalized education within the context of an interactive professor-students relationship. ¨ Professors meet regularly with students to provide feedback on their professional and personal development. ¨ Leader, administrators, and faculty develop supportive environments for tutoring and mentoring students. ¨ Students gain self-confidence and self-esteem. ¨ Students become aware of their weaknesses and engage in continuous self-improvement.
Cluster Four Connected Program Requirements Attributes Actions Positive Outcomes 9. Planned Breadth and Depth Course Work ¨ Faculty and administrators develop core and specialized course work requirements . ¨ Students become deeper thinkers with wider visions. They develop a more holistic understanding of knowledge and practice that enhances their personal and professional lives. 10. Tangible Products ¨ Faculty and administrators design tangible products to complete their programs. ¨ Faculty and administrators support students throughout this culmination activity, providing guidance and feedback as needed. ¨ Students become confident and independent professionals by assuming major responsibility for their projects. ¨ Students become more analytical thinkers with wider perspective on their professions.
Cluster Five Adequate Resources Attributes Actions Positive Outcomes 11. Support for Students ¨ Faculty and administrators support students with funds for scholarships, grants, loans, and funds for study-abroad, including agreements with the private sector in order to provide students with job openings and internships opportunities. ¨ Faculty, administrators and employers develop agreements and alliance for student internships and job opportunities after graduation. ¨ Since students do not have to worry about economic resources, they invest their energies in learning. ¨ Since students have opportunities to study abroad and to transfer their credits to international universities, they become more competitive and confident about their competence.
Cluster Five Adequate Resources Attributes Actions Positive Outcomes 12. Support for Faculty ¨ University authorities allocate monetary resources for faculty remuneration and reward structures based on faculty quality and achievements. ¨ University authorities support faculty publications by allocating monetary resources and sabbaticals. ¨ When professors invest their time in student teaching and learning, students feel more satisfied with their educational experiences and become better professionals. ¨ When students benefit from faculty’s quality preparation and publications, they become more qualified professionals 13. Support for Campus Infrastructure ¨ University authorities allocate monetary resources to update laboratories, libraries (virtual libraries), research stations, computer labs, and necessary equipment and supplies. ¨ University authorities invest in campus maintenance, innovation, and aesthetics. ¨ Students become more technically skilled to perform their jobs. ¨ Students who study on campuses with considerable resources develop a sense of belonging with their universities.
Haworth & Conrad´s Five Clusters & Seventeen Attributes of High-Quality Program Cluster 1 Cluster 2 Cluster 3 Cluster 4 Cluster 5 Diverse and Engaged Participants Participatory Cultures Interactive Teaching and learning Connected Program Requirements Adequate Resources - Diverse and engaged faculty - Diverse and engaged students - Engaged leaders - Shared program direction - Community of learners - Risk-taking environments - Critical dialogue - Integrative Learning - Mentoring - Cooperative Peer learning - Out-of-class activities - Planned Breadth and Depth of Coursework - Professional Residency - Tangible Products - Support for Students - Support for Faculty - Support for Basic Infrastructure
Cluster One: Highly Qualified Participants
1. Highly Qualified Faculty
All of my interviewees told me that highly qualified professors are people who not only have first-rate educations but are deeply devoted to teaching and passionately connected to their work.
To illustrate, at USFQ, stakeholders looked for faculty members with doctoral degrees, especially from the United States or Europe.
One alumnus from the biology field at PUCE stated:
Since we had good professors, we now are able to be good professionals in the biology field; we are more competitive… .
2. Highly Qualified Students
Interviewees frequently referred to highly qualified students as full-time students who were committed to education and had ambitions for a successful life.
A business professor at USFQ told me:
“ The admission process is well-structured at this university because we introduce planned actions to attract good students.”
A biology professor at USFQ, told me, “Since our students experienced pre-established standards to be admitted at USFQ, they encourage one another to become more fully devoted to their learning.”
Cluster Two: Learning-Centered Cultures
Shared Program Direction Focused on Learning
In high-quality programs, stakeholders are fundamental in building a shared program direction focused on learning. Participants engage in a philosophy and a set of tools for identifying and improving processes that lead to a better focus on learning.
The Dean of the Business School at PUCE, said:
We have begun meeting with twenty-five other program stakeholders and employers in order to re-define the shared-program direction focused on learning. Thirty professors have been working with students, alumni, and administrators to review and adapt the recommendations given by other program stakeholders.
A biology professor at PUCE, stated:
Students, who experience shared program direction, are becoming better-defined professionals with an understanding of the common focus as part of their education experiences and professional practices. In the United States universities, students, who experience shared program direction, are more informed of their professions and where to invest their professional energies. I hope Ecuadorian universities provide more shared program direction to their students.
2. Real-World Learning Experiences
Students in real-world learning experiences were assessed and evaluated through specific learning skills as well as the presentation of real-life projects for the private sector and industries.
The Chancellor at USFQ, stated:
Our students experience real-world learning experiences through case analysis. Our students also develop their own projects that become real-world projects for industries. To illustrate, faculty members and students are applying their projects as part of new industries. One project involves the beer industry with two new beers “ Paquita” and “San Pancho;” other projects are part of the food industry (chocolate and pasta).
A female professional from Ecuador with a degree in marketing told me that she developed projects that guided her to her profession. She stated:
When I was a student, I had the opportunity to connect my learning experience with projects (products). One of the products that I developed with my team was selected by the university and by a private business. The name of the product was Alpina . Currently, a food industry is selling our product with the name Avena Alpina. That project was a good start of my professional life.
3. Reading-Centered Culture
If universities promoted a reading-centered culture, the cultural level of society improved because people developed more critical thinking skills to face realities. If students in Latin American countries, particularly in Ecuador, read more, they would develop more creative thinking and feel able to contribute with new ideas.
University authorities advanced a reading-centered culture through introducing new policies such as providing quotas for books as part of students’ tuition.
University authorities, faculty, and administrators at PUCE and USFQ told me, “Professors know that they need to promote more reading among faculty, administrators, and particularly students. Students must come prepared to classes. Every class session needs to introduce discussions based on previous readings.”
A Latin American interviewee from Universidad José Simeón Cañas, El Salvador, told me, “Since I attended a good program that promoted reading, I became a more critical thinker. I started to view things from different perspectives, and I started to base solutions on knowledge.”
4. Suportive and Risk-Taking Environment
Faculty and administrators told me that they provide students with supportive environments because they wanted students to feel safe to take risks during their learning experiences.
The Vice-Chancellor at USFQ, said:
A risk-taking environment must create confusions in students within safe conditions, so they can question dogmas and paradigms in order to search for the truth. That is the kind of education our students are receiving at this university.
T hree students at USFQ, one from the biotechnology school and two from the business school, stated:
Within the context of a supportive environment, we feel encouraged to confront knowledge. We do not accept whatever is written or said. We have become more critical thinkers and more skilled to search for the truth.
Cluster Three: Interactive Teaching and Learning
1. Integrative Learning: Theory with Practice, Self with Subject
I learned from interviewees that the learning experience was enhanced when students understood the relevance of what they learned and knew how to connect knowledge to the outside world.
The Dean of Life Science and Biotechnology School at USFQ said:
Faculty and administrators are promoting hands-on learning through teamwork that helps students to develop projects. Currently, our students are developing agribusiness projects, and they are learning to connect theory with practice.
A Latin American interviewee from Colombia told me:
Since I study in a program that was organized through various hands-on projects, workshops, or fieldwork, I have become a more practical and logical person; I have developed more critical thinking. I usually worked within interdisciplinary teams. Thus, I have become able to connect theory with practice; it means that I am more skilled when developing projects.
2. Exclusive Tutoring and Mentoring
ETM emerged as an important attribute of high-quality programs in my study. I also learned that exclusive tutoring and mentoring has been introduced gradually at Latin American higher education institutions.
To illustrate, as for the fist action, a business alumnus at USFQ told me:
I liked the personalized education that I received at USFQ, I never felt like a name or number in the student roster because my professors always called me by my name; consequently, I felt much more motivated within that friendly professor-student relationship.
Four students, three from the business school and one from the biotechnology school at USFQ, told me: “Since our professors call us by our names and treat us with respect, we improve our self-confidence and self-esteem.”
Cluster Four: Connected Program Requirements
Planned Breadth and Depth Course Work
Through planned breadth and depth course work faculty and administrators require students to complete a program that embraces core and specialized course work. This attribute positively affected students’ development.
To illustrate this action, two business professors at USFQ stated:
(Professor 1): Our students are learning subjects from a more planned breadth and depth course work. Our students are learning more about core and general subjects, including national and international cultures.
(Professor 2): Our business program has a good balance between core and specialized courses according to their professional life interests. In addition, it includes cooking, languages, and history as part of the core course work.
A business professor at USFQ stated, “Our students are achieving more open minds; they feel like “free citizens” because they are exposed to a more planned breadth and depth course work.”
During my study, faculty and administrators designed tangible products such as theses and research projects for students to complete their programs.
The Rector at PUCE, stated:
At the undergraduate level, our biology students are expected to do and defend their own theses, as well as at the graduate level. The biology school at PUCE has prestige in Latin America because of its theses and research projects.
The Rector at PUCE, said:
Since our professors invite students to work with them in research projects that industries or business sectors provide funds for, students assume responsibilities because they feel as an important component of such research projects; and they have the opportunity to apply the results in their thesis.
Cluster Five: Adequate Resources
Support for Students
Support for students could be seen in the form of scholarships, internships, grants, loans, study-abroad opportunities, internships, and job opportunities after graduation .
The Rector at PUCE, said:
We allocate funds for students who have few monetary resources. Students are selected according to their economic income and their academic records.
To illustrate, a biology student at PUCE, stated:
Since funding organizations provide us money for our internships and research projects, we become better biologists and more competitive professionals.
Support for Faculty
Interviewees told me that more adequate monetary resources in the form of remunerations and rewards motivated faculty to invest more quality time in their teaching activities. While some university authorities thought that professors devoted their time to teaching and research for reasons other than money, most professors told me that they would have appreciated receiving better salaries and monetary rewards for their quality teaching and research. If university authorities paid better wages to faculty, greater faculty engagement would enrich students’ outcomes.
The Dean of the Business School at PUCE stated, “We are developing a structure for allocating more monetary resources for providing better remuneration to faculty as well as a reward structure that recognizes good teaching practice.”
Once professors had been appropriately rewarded, they invested their time in student teaching and learning; therefore, students felt more satisfied with their educational experiences and became even better professionals. This positive outcome still remains as an ideal one.
Support for Campus Infrastructure
Faculty, administrators, students, and alumni participating in this study emphasized that not only adequate facilities and equipment—such as laboratories, libraries, field related equipment, classrooms with new technology facilities for teaching, equipment, and supplies—but the beauty of the campus also contributed to quality programs.
The Director of the Biology Department at PUCE, acknowledged:
Our laboratories and libraries, regardless of monetary limitations, provide good services to students. Libraries also provide students with up-to-date scientific journals. These journal collections are considered the largest Ecuadorian collection in the zoology area; that is a good tool for research.
To illustrate, students at USFQ explained to me about their technical skills when looking for bibliographic materials. In their words:
(Student 1): USFQ provides us with excellent and very modern access to information through the Internet, virtual libraries, conventional libraries, and laboratories. I feel very satisfied with these campus facilities because I am developing my technical skills to find any bibliographic material here.
Contributions of the Theory of High-Quality Programs
I identified 13 attributes of high-quality programs. Eleven of these are closely connected to Haworth and Conrad’s theory and the other two attributes—real-world learning experiences and a reading-centered culture—make the signature theoretical contributions of my study.
Real-world learning experiences encourage the active involvement of stakeholders in designing curricula with real-world learning experiences that result in positive student outcomes.
A reading-centered culture has never before been identified in the literature. I n Latin American countries, such as Ecuador, students must read more to advance their learning.
After all, the primary purpose of higher learning is to provide students “with new insights” and “ enriching learning experiences that have positive effects on their development .” 
 Haworth and Conrad (1997: 213).
To connect my theory with the future of high-quality programs in Latin American and Ecuadorian universities, I believe that if all stakeholders along with state governors engage in the pursuit of “enriching learning experiences that have positive effects on students development” as the rule of life and not as the exception—in concert with the program attribute I have identified—high-quality programs will become the most important component of Latin American universities, particularly Ecuadorian universities.
I envision a better future for our universities. That is, Latin American universities will become accountable to society by guaranteeing their students high-quality programs, which will assure more sustainable development within each country.
I believe that these recommendations would revolutionize Latin America’s current higher education system in a positive way by encouraging Latin American universities to compete with universities in developed countries.