SAN DIEGO — When a college applies for a grant with the U.S. Department of Education, the agency asks for the institution’s designation in the Carnegie Classifications, the premier system that groups and defines similar institutions.
The top marker, R1, denotes very high research activity, and the doctoral universities that receive it often tout it as a mark of prestige.
However, as many rankings in the world of higher education, classifications have been criticized too much drive institutional decision-making, colleges striving to reach R1 at part of the cost of their missions. Critics argue that the classifications disadvantage some research-leaning institutions that cannot meet the standards — for example, not a single historically black college or university has achieved R1 status.
What if, in applications for Department of Education grants, institutions also had to indicate how successful they are in advancing the social and economic mobility of students? What if this measure could help unlock millions of dollars in federal funds?
Those were the questions posed by Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, the new administrator of the Carnegie Classifications, at the association’s annual meeting on Monday.
ACE, with the owner of the classification system, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, will integrate social, racial and economic concerns in a new version of the classifications due to debut next year.
Representatives from the organizations said Monday they expect by next year’s CAOT annual meeting that colleges can see where they fit in a new model.
But some skepticism remains that the allure of performing well on a social and economic metric — and the consequences of performing poorly on it — would in fact change college behavior, as well as the purpose of organizations. And higher education professionals are calling for more changes to the system than just a new category.
A new view
The Carnegie Classifications were first published in 1973 and almost instantly became a tool for determining a hierarchy between colleges, Mitchell said at the ACE meeting on Monday. About 4,000 establishments are included in the classifications.
They are updated regularly, but colleges rarely move between tiers. However, R1 status remains coveted by many large research-oriented institutions.
The desire to reach R1 caused some colleges to deviate from what they did best, Mitchell said. The Chronicle of higher education sketched in 2018 how colleges attempting to move from R2 to R1 status often aggressively seek new lab space, research projects, and faculty recruitment, but have raised concerns about how these changes affect the quality of education, especially for undergraduate students.
Mitchell and Timothy Knowles, president of the Carnegie Foundation, said during Monday’s presentation that they did not want to deter institutions that can responsibly seek R1 status from doing so.
But they envision a new path in classifications that illuminates social and economic mobility work that some institutions already see as a cornerstone — and I hope these colleges can be rewarded for it, they said. The social and economic mobility marker would be a separate measure, even if a college had achieved R1 status.
“How do we learn from those institutions that do it particularly well?” Knowles said. “And then we can create public policy and direct public capital to those places.”
Conversely, both organizations want a classification structure that encourages institutions already at the top of research to question whether they are doing enough in the area of social and economic mobility.
Currently, ACE is setting up three project teams around classifications: one will handle technical work, another will focus on policy, and the third will specialize in reporting from the field – what Mitchell described as “tellers of truth”.
Reactions to a mobility proposal
But some university leaders doubt that the public or policymakers will give equal weight to a research and mobility score, with an HBCU president telling Higher Ed Dive that the federal government will likely continue to funnel funding to colleges. institutions with top research rankings, although the ranking methodology changes.
Other conference participants weighed in on different aspects of the classifications that they believe need updating.
Eduardo Ochoa, president of California State University, Monterey Bay, said during the discussion that professors reinforce the perception that high status is necessary for institutions because they often attend these types of colleges.
He said he would like to see “an entry point” from ACE and the foundation that would change the way teachers are trained.
And Jamienne Studley, chair of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission accreditor, said the accreditor supports the idea.
“I think we can align those conversations and weave them together in a very effective way,” Studley said.
Classifications will officially transfer to ACE on March 15. They had been administered at Indiana University since 2014. ACE will manage the well-known base classifications, which encompass R1 and R2 colleges, as well as newer ones, which recognize institutional efforts. to exchange knowledge and resources with their communities.
Initially, Albion College, a private liberal arts institution in Michigan, designed to house the systembut these plans were abandoned after the resignation of its president, Mathew Johnson following a torrent of criticism of students, alumni and staff about his performance and culture during his tenure.