PHILADELPHIA, PA — An investigative report published by ProPublica and the Chronicle of Higher Education found that many online “research” programs promote publications as a college admissions credential. Some promise high school students scholarly publications — something no program is ethically able to guarantee — while others publish those papers in low-quality journals, which they may themselves own, in exchange for students’ paid participation in those programs.
In contrast, the report identified Pioneer Academics as “the oldest online research mentorship program for high schoolers,” and noted that Pioneer has “maintained relatively rigorous standards” in an industry otherwise marred by dubious publications and transactional offers. ProPublica’s investigation found that unlike Pioneer’s low-standard competitors, Pioneer “never promises academic journal publication, according to its website.”
“The push for publication leads young scholars astray,” Pioneer co-founder Matthew Jaskol said in the report. “The message is that looking like a champion is more important than training to be a great athlete.”
Oberlin College corroborates the integrity of Pioneer’s research programs, which enable high school students to conduct original research projects virtually under the guidance of higher-education faculty.
The ProPublica article explained, “Oberlin College gives credits to students for passing Pioneer courses. The college’s annual reviews have found that research done for Pioneer ‘far exceeded’ what would be expected to earn credit, said Michael Parkin, an associate dean of arts and sciences at Oberlin and a former Pioneer mentor, who oversees the collaboration.”
The report documents a widespread practice by other online research services that enable students to publish research of dubious quality in forums that imitate professional scholarly research journals but barely maintain academic standards. In some cases, ignoring clear conflicts of interest, the faux-scholarly journals were launched, and remain owned, by the same companies that are referring students’ papers to them.
The article also calls out other unethical practices common among online research providers. Some programs have inflated their credentials, for example by identifying mentors as Ph.D.s even when they didn’t have a doctorate. Others offer independent educational consultants “perks” that may violate college counseling ethics codes that prohibit counselors from accepting bribes that incentivize student referrals.
“Not only does Pioneer never promise publication, but we actively discourage students from applying to Pioneer if publication is their primary purpose,” Jaskol said. “Moreover, Pioneer Academics does not conduct college application consulting or affiliate financially with college application consultants. And we meet 100% of the demonstrated financial need of our applicants. We are not pay-to-play, or pay-to-publish — and we never will be.”
“We appreciate the work ProPublica has done to highlight the industry wide deceptive practices. We were gratified to see the report uphold Pioneer as a beacon of integrity in the space where too many companies mislead educators, parents, and students. At Pioneer we will continue to focus on our mission: helping students cultivate their passions through rigorous and original research.”
The full article, “The Newest College Admissions Ploy: Paying to Make Your Teen a ‘Peer-Reviewed’ Author,” is available here.