Carnegie Classification System Under Fire

The Carnegie classification system was first published in 1973 by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education and is now administered by Indiana University. The classification was based on the insight that the missions of colleges and universities in the United States are very diverse and that they should not be judged by the same standards.

Institutions are classified as follows:

Doctorate Granting Universities, which comprise those with very high research activity (R1), those with high research activity (R2) and Doctoral/Professional Universities (DPU)

Master’s Colleges and Universities

Baccalaureate Colleges

Associate’s Colleges

Special focus Institutions

Tribal colleges.

Unfortunately, the classification has evolved into a hierarchy with university administrators struggling to climb into the top category of R1 institutions. A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Michael M Crow and Jeffrey J Selingo of Arizona State University argues that the system has negative consequences for US higher education with universities shifting scarce resources to research and doctoral programmes.

Crow and Selingo suggest that the Carnegie system is now outdated and that a new one is needed. They report on a new classification system for four-year colleges based on 17 measures that “capture ways that colleges provide access to students, deliver education, and produce new knowledge to benefit society.”

The result is a system with 13 clusters of institutions with similar attributes, such as National Scale Research Universities and Community Scale Research Universities. There is, however, no hierarchy or ranking.  The authors argue that this will provide a fairer and more accurate picture of the complexity of US higher education.



Chronicle of Higher Education

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