Category Archives: Study in the US

Too Much Self-Citation?

Too Much Self-Citation?

February 26, 2015


A senior psychology professor has strongly denied any wrongdoing after a blog highlighted what it claimed was his high self-citation rate in papers published in journals he edited.

Johnny Matson, a professor at Louisiana State University and an expert in autism, was the founding editor in chief of the Elsevier journals Research in Developmental Disabilities(RIDD) and Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders (RASD).

Earlier this month the journals came to the attention of Dorothy Bishop, professor of developmental neuropsychology at the University of Oxford. Bishop learned that she was on the editorial board of RASD, although she said that she had no recollection of agreeing to such a position. According to Matson, Bishop did give her permission to be added to the board.

Bishop then looked into the journals, setting out her resulting claims in a blog posting, including that Matson is an author on more than 10 percent of the papers published in RASDsince the journal was established in 2007. At around that time his citation count also began to shoot up (according to the Scopus database, he has published 117 papers in RASDand 133 in RIDD, founded in 1987).

Bishop also claims that, according to Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science, just over half of Matson’s citations are self-citations -- much higher than the rates of other autism experts she looked at.

In a comment on the blog post, Michael Osuch, publishing director for neuroscience and psychology journals at Elsevier, insisted that under Matson’s editorship all papers in both journals were reviewed, and that his own were handled by one of the journals’ associate editors. He added that Matson and all associate editors stepped down at the end of 2014.

Matson told Times Higher Education that he stood down for health reasons, adding that “anytime a new editor comes in they bring their own associate editors.” Responding to Bishop’s claim that some of his associate editors were “relatively junior, with close links to [him],” he said that all his papers had been reviewed by “several” associate editors.

He said that “substantial numbers” of his nearly 800 papers -- all of which had similar levels of self-citation -- were published in journals that he did not edit. This “debunked” any suggestion that he had been given an “easy ride” by RIDDand RASD, he added, noting that others in his field had also published more than 100 papers in a single journal.

A high citation count would have “no particular value” for him given his seniority, he said. Many of his papers built on his previous work, but he also cited other researchers “at high rates.”

“This issue is one, from my perspective, of giving credit,” Matson said. “I am not aware of any standard regarding self-citations [and] I think the numbers cited [by] Bishop... may be inflated.”

He also said, “I have been a professor for over 30 years and have never had my integrity questioned before. You will always have critics, but... the journals are held in very high regard by the vast majority of researchers in the field.”

Prioritizing Partnerships

Prioritizing Partnerships

February 19, 2015


WASHINGTON -- In international education circles, it’s not uncommon to hear of an institution that has 100 or more partnerships with foreign universities -- several hundred, even. But how should universities assess the value of these partnerships and determine which ones to prioritize -- and which ones, perhaps, to prune?

Those questions were at the forefront of a session on strategic alliances on Wednesday at the Association of International Education Administrators’ annual conference. Daniel Obst, the deputy vice president for international partnerships at the Institute of International Education, began the session by outlining the benefits of strategic alliances to universities -- including shared costs and risks, access to target markets, expanded teaching and research capacity, and new opportunities for students and researchers. He shared preliminary data from an ongoing survey showing that 80 percent of universities globally report having established a partnership with a higher education institution abroad and 68 percent distinguish a regular partnership from a strategic one.

When the University of Queensland, in Australia, first launched a data tool to measure the impacts of its various partnerships, “We knew that we had 705 active agreements; we were working with close to 400 partners in 52 countries," said Jessica Gallagher, deputy director of global engagement for the university. “But what we didn’t know was where we had more substantive relationships -- the high-volume, comprehensive partners. We wanted to know where we could grow, and we also wanted to know which relationships were transformational and which ones were more transactional.”

Queensland officials also wanted to know which partnerships were inactive. “When you’ve got almost 400 partners, maybe it’s time for you to say, ‘Well, do we actually need that many?’” Gallagher said. “It is just not possible with the resources that we have to service all those partnerships at the same level, and so we really needed to look at prioritizing.”

Gallagher explained that Queensland’s Partner Engagement Framework, which launched in 2012 and is now updated annually, measures the strength of each individual university-to-university partnership on 16 different teaching-, research- and engagement- oriented indicators, including indicators for student mobility, joint Ph.D. programs, joint publications, funded joint projects and alumni connections. Users can log in to the online tool with a Queensland ID to see a snapshot of the university’s engagement with any given partner on each of the 16 dimensions (see a sample screenshot here) -- and can click for more detail on an individual indicator.

"With some of our partners we’re very strong in teaching and learning, so we have a number of Ph.D. programs, and we have a student mobility program, but what we may not have is research activity, so it gives us an opportunity to look at, well, is there opportunity to expand?” Gallagher said. The university has more recently launched a complementarycountry engagement framework, which looks at the strength of Queensland’s international partnerships at the level of country rather than university.

Queensland's quantitative approach has its limits, and not only in terms of the labor and resources needed to develop and update the frameworks: as an audience member pointed out, some partnerships could look small on paper but be big in practice. Further, as Gallagher readily acknowledged, the impact of these measures isn't everything.

"Some of our strategic partners aren't necessarily the ones that are bringing in the largest student numbers or the big dollars in terms of [research] projects," she said, but rather, the partnership fits with the university's mission. She cited Queensland's relationships in Indonesia, for example, "where the partnerships are still relatively new, and we're still really looking to to see what will result from the collaboration, but it is about supporting our federal government's initiatives in Southeast Asia. It's about different kinds of research, and it's about being able to provide expertise and support capacity building."

Also during Wednesday's session, Ursula Hans, the director of the international office at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, in Germany, described the university's approach to developing "profile partnerships." Hans described the university's international strategy as providing a "top-down framework" and organizational support for "bottom-up" initiatives.

"We would never suggest a strategic alliance with a university where we didn't already have two substantial projects in place," Hans said. "In other words, they build on substantial, long-term relationships and expand on a range of faculty interests."

Hans cited a number of reasons why a university might enter into a strategic partnership, including to enhance that university's reputation, to focus faculty interest in collaborations with international partner universities and to access third-party funding sources.

"Our motivation is really an exploratory one," she said. "It is to see whether there is an added value to linking yourself up very closely with another university, to see how far we can take that partnership concept both in students and in research and also in governance, because we think there's a lot out there to be learned for us in consulting with other people in other contexts. Some things cannot be adapted; others can."

Making Them Pay

Making Them Pay

February 18, 2015


Community college students should be able to afford to take two courses every spring, summer and fall semester, a new policy paper from New America argues, but a number of barriers -- especially surrounding financial aid -- “impede the flexibility” those students need to earn a degree.

In “Community College Online,” Rachel Fishman, a senior policy analyst with the foundation, suggests community college students would be able to speed up their time to degree completion if they could mix face-to-face, hybrid and fully online courses, courses that rely on seat time and courses that measure competencies. To achieve that kind of flexibility, Fishman present a wish list of federal- and state-level policy changes.

“Information technology has the potential to support students through their degree paths and increase the number of courses a student takes per semester, hastening time to degree,” Fishman writes. “[Students] should not have to struggle through a system that was designed around a face-to-face education at a physical location.”

The paper comes at a time when community colleges leaders are wondering how to capitalize on the Obama administration’s interest in their institutions. While the administration estimates its plan to make community college free would cost $60 billion over the next decade, some community college experts have said the institutions need reforms that involve more than money to serve the millions of students who could benefit from the initiative.

At the same time, many community college leaders are concerned that the administration’s plans to rate institutions based on metrics such as completion and transfer rates could brand them as “low performing.” As Fishman’s paper points out, 64 percent of community college students who enrolled in 2006 didn’t earn a degree after 6 years. Among part-time students, that number was 82 percent.

To lower those percentages, Fishman writes, students need to take more courses -- two each during the spring, summer and fall semesters. But for many students, she adds, federal regulations governing financial aid make that an unaffordable proposal.

Nearly half of Fishman’s proposals therefore involve changing federal regulations to make financial aid less tied to semesters and time spent in the classroom. Those rules are a “relic” from when most students went directly to college after graduating high school and then took summers off, she writes. “That is not the reality for most students anymore, and especially not for community college students, who are more likely to be older, have part-time or full-time jobs, commute to school or take courses online.”

According to Fishman’s proposal, the federal government should offer year-round Pell Grants to help students pay for courses during the summer, as opposed to splitting the financial aid evenly between the fall and spring. (The foundation last month devoted a separate policy paper to that idea.) Financial aid officers should also be able to limit how much part-time students can take out in loans, thereby preventing students from hitting financial aid caps before they earn a degree.

"It's not that financial aid is necessarily a barrier to online learning and innovation, but our financial aid system is a barrier for increasing the flexibility in credit accumulation that could really meet the needs of 21st-century students," Fishman said in an e-mail. "Giving year-round financial aid to students does not mean all those students will necessarily be online, but it does allow them the flexibility to go online during the summer or winter intercession, for example."

In addition to proposing more flexible ways of distributing federal financial aid, Fishman suggests students should be free to spend the funds on whatever mix of courses they need, including face-to-face classes, competency-based education or courses that help them prepare for higher education.

"Allowing financial aid to flow to students who want to take both an online competency-based course and a face-to-face course is not possible in our current system even if it would benefit students and hasten time their time to degree," Fishman said in an e-mail. "If the system allows for financial aid to flow in this way, institutions would be less hindered in how and in what modality they offer their courses."

Adult students also should have more financial aid options beyond what the federal government offers, Fishman writes. State programs that only provide aid to students graduating high school could expand their eligibility requirements to include other groups of students, she suggests, and more community colleges could offer “emergency funding” for students to pay for unexpected car repairs or medical expenses. Even federal and state tax returns could be tweaked to automatically alert students to government benefit programs they qualify for, she writes.

Matt Reed, academic vice president at Holyoke Community College (and a blogger for Inside Higher Ed), said in his blog that the policy paper “offers plenty to build on,” and that Fishman’s suggestion to ease the restrictions on financial aid for competency-based education “makes sense on several levels.”

But Reed also questioned whether expanding existing grant programs and creating a new one specifically for community colleges -- two other proposals outlined in the policy paper -- is the best way to promote innovation among two-year institutions. Fishman makes those recommendations after pointing out that “there are no federal funding streams dedicated to innovation at community colleges, even though they educate the largest share of students in higher education.”

“Grants are great, and I’d heartily endorse a recommendation to make more of them, and a more varied set of them, realistically available to community colleges,” Reed wrote. “But the issue that kills so much innovation in the crib isn’t a lack of grants; it’s a shortage of operating funds.”

In an e-mail, Fishman acknowledged the resources required to make such reforms possible.

“Innovations like the ones featured in the report take time and money,” Fishman said. “With localities and states slashing the budgets of their higher ed institutions, it's often the community colleges who are the hardest hit. In many cases states are asking them to act innovative, while pulling the funding right out from beneath them.”

Giving community colleges more opportunities to compete for grants can give initiatives that help students an initial boost, Fishman added, “but it’s up to states and localities to ensure that these improvements are sustained through continued funding.”

Apart from recommendations strictly related to funding, the paper suggests ensuring that credits students earn at community colleges transfer to four-year institutions, giving faculty more professional development opportunities and promoting the creation and use of open educational resources. To learn more about the students taking blended courses and enrolling in competency-based education programs, the report also recommends the federal government collect more data through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, or IPEDS.

An event scheduled to be held in coordination with the release of the policy paper was postponed because of inclement weather in Washington.

Seattle Pacific Welcomes Homeless Camp for 3 Months

Seattle Pacific Welcomes Homeless Camp for 3 Months
February 16, 2015

Seattle Pacific University, a Christian institution, has opened part of its campus for a tent city (at right) of homeless people who together move to various locations in the Seattle area. About 80 people will live in tents at Seattle Pacific for three months. The university is adding educational and service programs on the homeless so that students can both learn about the issue of homelessness and provide direct help to those who are living on campus. The tent city reflects the university's "mission to engage the culture and change the world,” said a statement from President Daniel J. Martin. “It provides our community a unique opportunity to care for and learn from our neighbor.”

Connected or Disconnected?

Connected or Disconnected?

February 5, 2015


This year’s freshmen traded some of the hours they would normally have spent hanging out with friends or partying during their senior year in high school for time on social media, a survey of those students shows.

Rather than conclude the freshmen entering college today are more introverted than past cohorts, the 2014 Freshman Survey, conducted by researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles’s Higher Education Research Institute, suggests the findings raise new questions about how students interact with their peers -- and how they view those interactions themselves.

Read our full coverage on the 2014 Freshman Survey here.

During their senior year of high school, only 18 percent of surveyed students spent more than 16 hours a week with friends, while 38.8 percent said they socialized for fewer than 5 hours. In 1987, those figures were reversed.

The students also arrived at college woefully underprepared to party. Since 1987, the number of students who spent less than one hour a week partying has more than doubled, from 24.3 percent to 61.4 percent, while the share of students who spent six or more hours a week has dropped from 34.5 percent to 8.6 percent. Nearly half of the students, or 41.3 percent, said they didn’t party during their senior year.

At least part of the time not spent partying or hanging out with friends in person went toward social media use, according to the report. The institute first began asking students about social media use in 2007, when fewer than one in every five students, or 18.9 percent, spent more than six hours a week on social networks. Now, 27.2 percent of students say they do.

The cohort also included fewer casual social media users. In 2007, almost one-third of students, or 31.9 percent, said they only logged in to social networks for less than an hour a week, compared to 21.7 percent who said the same this year.

“It's fair to assume that for some significant portion of kids, time spent on social media is replacing time spent hanging out with friends,” said Victor Schwartz, medical director at the Jed Foundation, which works to prevent suicide among college students. “Most of us would argue that texting or e-mailing a friend is not the same quality of interaction as being in a club, or on a team, or just hanging out, but it's more complicated than that. They're still connecting, but it's happening through a device.”

While their need for face-to-face socialization has dropped, students value the social activities offered by colleges more today than they did in the 1980s. More surveyed students (42.8 percent) said a college’s reputation for social activities was a more important factor in their decision-making process than a campus visit (42.4 percent), the size of the institution (36.6 percent) or its graduation rate (31.1 percent), for example.

“Even though socializing with friends has declined, students increasingly value institutional social offerings and environments during the college choice process,” the researchers write. “This may indicate that students are increasingly looking to institutions to provide social opportunities given their declining experience with less structured forms of socializing.”

Jake New contributed to this article.