Publication trends in top-tier journals in higher education

Matthew R. Johnson, Nick J. Wagner, Jonathan Reusch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to analyze author and methodological characteristics in top-tier publications in higher education. As the importance of research in the professoriate continues to grow and faculty face ratcheted-up expectations for prestige in their research, such data are important contextually and historically. Design/methodology/approach: This descriptive study examines 587 articles within four top-tier higher education research journals from 2008 to 2012. Data were open coded and analyzed with a research team, resulting in an intercoder reliability of 0.96. Findings: Results show most authors are assistant professors, overwhelmingly received PhD’s from very high research institutions (Carnegie classification), and currently work in similar institutions. Five degree-granting institutions accounted for 29.0 percent of publications in top-tier journals. Additionally, quantitative research accounted for 60.6 percent of published articles, with regression as the most commonly used analytic technique (34.7 percent). Research limitations/implications: This study examined only higher education faculty and institutions based in the USA as well as first authors. Practical implications: These results are meant to provide baseline data for top-tier journals within higher education and might inform conversations about methodological acceptability, respectability of qualitative research, graduate education research requirements, journal editor trainings, and tenure and promotion criteria. Originality/value: This paper provides an update to previous studies that examined publications in higher education within the last three decades. In addition, this study examines author characteristics, which previous studies have mostly excluded. This study offers empirical data to inform conversations about the state of research in top-tier publications within higher education.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)439-454
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Applied Research in Higher Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2016


  • Author characteristics
  • Prestige
  • Publication trends
  • Research methods


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