A New Carnegie Classification

For first time, designations focus on community engagement -- grouping 2-year colleges, liberal arts institutions and universities.
December 7, 2006

While the periodic reviews of the Carnegie Classifications always contain surprises, as some institutions end up in a different category from the one they expected, there is also plenty of predictability. In grouping institutions based on the programs they offered, there was no chance a community college could end up with a liberal arts college or a university. That changed Wednesday with the release of the first "elective" classification system by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

The foundation designated 76 colleges as qualifying for its new "community engagement" classification, which they will hold on top of their other participation in the classification system. To be designated, colleges had to apply and provide evidence of community engagement. Twelve colleges applied and didn't get selected.

True to the aim of the new system, it included community colleges, liberal arts institutions, regional universities and flagship doctoral institutions. The institutions that went through the review process said that they hoped it would help them consider the role of community engagement on their campuses and spur pride in these efforts. And several said that they were also happy to receive some outside validation for efforts that don't necessarily result in higher U.S. News rankings or federal grants.

Michael Moore, provost of Morehead State University, said he saw the designation as "a way to energize even more of the faculty and staff to become engaged with the community," something he said has long been central to the institution's role as the main provider of higher education in the Appalachian region of eastern Kentucky.

In many local school districts, he noted, 90 percent of school teachers are Morehead State graduates, and the same is true for nurses and social workers. A board member a few years ago said that the university "created the middle class that exists" in the region. That creates a responsibility for the university, Moore said, to be sure its programs are closely connected to the region and its needs.

During students' first year at Atlanta's Spelman College, they are required to go through "service plunges" in which they are given assignments with various groups, in the hope that students will find a meaningful way to give back, said Felecia Tearson Smith, director of community service and student development. One valuable part of the Carnegie process, Smith said, was that it encourages colleges to take stock of the impact of these experiences, and not to just assume they are going well. Spelman, for example, surveys both students and the groups they help on the value of the experience.

For community colleges, many of which have felt historically that Carnegie Classifications haven't offered them much, the new system creates an opportunity to be judged "by the company we keep" across higher education, said John J. Sbrega, president of Bristol Community College, in Massachusetts. He said one of the things he is most proud of in terms of his college's community engagement is that job notices for faculty and administrative positions make reference to working with the region. He said that he hopes that the new Carnegie classification becomes "engrained in the national psyche" much the way institutions previously wanted to be "Research I" institutions, in a previous classification system.

The issue of recruiting that Sbrega cited is actually one that Carnegie officials said they would like to see at more institutions. Too few are making community engagement an explicit part of job duties.

For some institutions, the new designation is also a chance to draw attention to new efforts at engagement. Larry A. Nielsen, provost of North Carolina State University, said that a major emphasis at his institution over the last decade -- the Centennial Campus -- has drawn attention for its links between the university and businesses, but also features a new middle school and a new center on educational innovation. "This is about building the university" with engagement in mind, he said.

The University of Baltimore, a public urban institution, is expanding from offering only upper division and professional school courses to providing four years of undergraduate education. Wim Wiewel, the provost, said that as the institution designs courses for its first freshmen and sophomores, the emphasis will be on "learning communities" -- in which students take several related courses together -- built around the local area. Themes may be the world of work, urban life, or changes in Baltimore.

"Our slogan is 'knowledge that works,' " he said, but  that really means "knowledge that works for Baltimore."


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