Carnegie Classification

Carnegie Issues Broad Changes in System of ClassifyingColleges


The Chronicle ofHigher Education, Monday, August 7, 2000




The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teachingtoday released a new classification system for American higher education. Thesweeping revision of the classification emphasizes teaching, focusing on thenumber and type of degrees an institution awards, rather than research orselectivity in admissions.


Carnegie also has made changes to some of the categories,including a consolidation of its groupings for institutions that grant doctoraldegrees. The foundation's main goals in the restructuring: broadening thesystem's emphasis beyond research funds, and discouraging its use as a way torank colleges.


About 640 colleges and universities changed categories inthe new classification, compared with the last one, done six years ago. Thechanges delighted some college leaders, who thought that the new system placedgreater value on their institutions' focus on teaching, and dismayed others,who believed that Carnegie's categorization didn't match their vision of their institutions'identity. Some colleges have asked to have their classifications changed;Carnegie has made dozens of shifts and is considering others.


Some education scholars also argued that the new systemblurs institutional differences, diminishing its usefulness as a research tool-- the purpose it was created three decades ago to serve. Institutions over theyears have come to view the system as one measure of their identity, and theclassification also is used by U.S. News & World Report as a starting pointfor its annual college rankings.


Foundation officials acknowledged that the new groupingshave flaws, but they consider the Carnegie Classification 2000 an interim steptoward an overhaul of the entire system in 2005.


"It wouldn't really be hard for someone to get otherdata to create more-relevant distinctions," said Alexander C. McCormick, asenior scholar at the Carnegie Foundation who supervised the project. "Our2005 edition will have a much more flexible system to bring together thedifferent dimensions of institutions."


Carnegie did the interim work this year because theinformation used in the last classification, in 1994, is "way out ofdate," Mr.

McCormick added.


Since 1994, the number of colleges and universities hasincreased from about 3,600 to 3,856. Some 500 institutions are new to thisyear's classification, including 377 that specialize in associate-levelprograms. Among those, about 215 are for-profit two-year colleges.


About 195 institutions were dropped from the listing becausethey closed, merged, or lost their accreditation.


The foundation, based in Menlo Park, Calif., created theclassification in 1970 to group institutions by their academic missions and toserve as a research tool for scholars of higher education. Since then, thecategories have undergone several revisions, but none as substantial as thoseannounced by the foundation last fall for this year's classification.


Carnegie officials, particularly the foundation's presidentsince 1997, Lee S. Shulman, were concerned that the categories had come to beseen as a ranking system for colleges. In some cases, that trend had ledpresidents and governing boards to adopt "moving up in the CarnegieClassification" as an institutional goal. The foundation's leaders alsoworried that the categories had come to weigh institutions' research activitiestoo heavily, at the expense of other aspects of their missions, such asteaching and service, Mr. McCormick said.


Foundation officials also were concerned that changes in howthe National Science Foundation reports data on federal grants to collegeswould make it difficult to compare an institution's research activity to thatin previous years. Mr. McCormick said the foundation wants the 2005classification system, which is still being developed, to allow institutions toappear in several categories. That innovation, he said, would more accuratelydescribe colleges' identity and activities, including the spectrum of theirresearch, which might not necessarily be reflected solely by the amount offederal grants they attract.


The biggest change in this year's classification is foruniversities that award doctoral degrees, and not surprisingly, most of the shiftsbetween categories occurred in that group. The former system had fourcategories that mainly based distinctions between research and doctoralinstitutions on the amount of federal research grants they drew annually.


The new system divides those institutions into only twocategories, based solely on the number of degrees awarded in a given number ofdisciplines. Institutions that confer 50 doctorates a year in at least 15disciplines are listed as Doctoral Extensive, while those that grant at least10 doctorates annually in three or more disciplines are categorized as DoctoralIntensive.


The proportion of all institutions that fall into the twonew categories is only slightly larger than the share that was in the previous fourcategories: about 6.8 percent, compared with 6.4 percent in 1994. Yet somecolleges made significant jumps between categories, due both to expansions oftheir degree offerings and to the category criteria of the new system.


Most universities previously classified as Research I, likethe California Institute of Technology, moved into the new Doctoral

Extensive category. Nineteen institutions that were DoctoralI in 1994, like Boston College, and five that were Doctoral II, are nowDoctoral Extensive. Thirty-seven universities that were Research II in 1994,like the University of Idaho, also now are

Doctoral Extensive.


The changes won praise from officials at some institutions.Ann Weaver Hart, the provost at Claremont Graduate University, which moved fromthe Doctoral I category to Doctoral Extensive, sent an e-mail message praisingthe news to the university's faculty and students.


"The new category emphasizes education, so it puts uswith institutions that have both research and education missions, rather thanresearch only," she said in an interview. "I'm pleased, because Ithink it's a shift from a decades-long trend to give more emphasis to research."


But some education researchers were less than enthusiasticabout the changes. "The 2000 reclassification entails a significant blurringof very real and significant distinctions between institutions," said JackH. Schuster, a professor of education and public policy at Claremont. Thegrouping of Boston College, Caltech, and the University of Idaho in the samecategory illustrates that loss of focus, he said. "They're very different,and there needs to be a way to more finely delineate between types of institutions."


Boston College is a Roman Catholic institution offering anarray of doctoral degrees, Caltech is a nonsectarian institution with a focuson hard-science research, and the University of Idaho is a public institutionwith some research programs, particularly in nuclear energy and mining.


Collapsing the four previous categories for doctoralinstitutions into two will create problems for researchers who want to assesschanges in higher education over time, Mr. Schuster said. Although Carnegie hadrevised its categories in previous years, it was still possible to compare overtime.


"It was, with all of its imperfections, reasoned enoughand adequately reflective enough of realities on the ground that it could be usedby all researchers, who could then offer their own critiques and qualificationsto the scheme," Mr. Schuster said.


"In a way, we now have to start from scratch or developalternate classification measures, and with a variety of people doing that, thepossibility of doing comparative research really becomes much moredifficult."


Presidents of some baccalaureate colleges also were dismayedby the new classification. The old system used an institution's admissionsselectivity as a factor in classifying colleges into two baccalaureatecategories. Carnegie officials thought that factor had helped foster the notionthat the classification was a ranking system -- a notion they wanted to dispel.So they created three new categories for baccalaureate colleges, based not onselectivity in admissions but on the number and types of degrees they award.


Dozens of institutions that had been classified asbaccalaureate colleges in 1994 are now listed as master's institutions, either becausethey have added programs or because of the new categories' criteria.


Many presidents of liberal-arts colleges were upset to learnthat because they offered one or two master's-degree programs, they would nolonger be classified as baccalaureate, liberal-arts colleges, said JulianneStill Thrift, president of Salem College, in North Carolina. "This thinghas been a real problem for us," she said.


Her institution initially was listed as Master's II in thenew classification, because it offers a single master's program in education. Butthe college considers itself a liberal-arts, baccalaureate institution, andpersuaded Carnegie to change the listing to that, Ms. Thrift said. "Itmore accurately reflects what we are: our mission, our programs, and ourfaculty focus."


Goucher College, in Maryland, has a similar complaint aboutbeing classified as a Master's II institution, and has asked

Carnegie to reconsider, said Robert S. Welch, the college'sinterim president. "It has to do with how we view ourselves and how wethink it would be appropriate for the world to view us," he said.


The University of Redlands, in California, which in 1994 wasdeemed a Master's I university, found itself listed in the new classificationas a Specialized Institution, because it offers many business degrees. "Wejust thought that was erroneous, because it doesn't represent ourinstitution," said Philip A. Glotzbach, the vice president for academicaffairs.


He asked Carnegie to reconsider its listing, and thefoundation agreed to restore Redlands to the Master's I category.


Redlands also was concerned about how the new listing wouldaffect its position in college-ranking systems like those done by

U.S. News. "Like everyone else, we have ambivalenceabout the U.S. News rankings," Mr. Glotzbach said. "But no school likesto drop out of a ranking that has previously regarded the school well."


Peter Cary, the special-projects editor at the magazine,said it used the 1994 Carnegie system for this year's rankings, which will bepublished in September. "We'll be looking at whether we need to makeadjustments for next year," he said.


Carnegie's Mr. McCormick emphasized that the classificationsreleased this week were preliminary, and that the foundation would continue inthe coming months to seek comment from institutions and make changes. "Wedidn't anticipate the degree of upset over the preliminary results," hesaid. "So with a lot of these, we have provisionally moved them becausethere seems to be some merit to their argument."


People seeking further information on the new classificationor the 2005 changes can read more on Carnegie's Web site, at



Copyright 2000 by The Chronicle of Higher Education