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A new iteration of "Carnegie Classifications" arrives today -- reflecting many of the ways higher education is changing.

Of the 483 institutions classified for the first time (including a handful that moved categories), 77 percent are for-profit institutions, compared to only 4 percent that are public and 19 percent that are independent nonprofit institutions. Other changes in the classifications reflect the growth of pre-professional and career-oriented programs in all sectors of higher education and an increase in the number of community colleges (also a sector with many job-related programs) offering four-year degrees. The classifications suggest shrinkage for liberal arts-focused institutions.

The Carnegie Classifications of Institutions of Higher Education are produced by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and are somewhat unusual in that they are influential, but also are widely misunderstood as rankings or reflecting long-since-replaced methodologies. Many people still talk about institutions that aspire to be "Research I" institutions, referring to a Carnegie category that hasn't been used in more than a decade. The new classifications follow largely the same methodology as the 2005 version (the most recent) and aim to enable researchers, granting agencies and foundations to group together similar institutions.

Chun-Mei Zhao, who directs the classifications project, said that Carnegie made a "deliberate decision" to keep the methodology consistent with the 2005 version. Since major changes were made for that version, "we wanted stability to allow for comparisons" over time, she said.

Institutions receive a "basic" ranking (broadly dividing institutions into sectors) and also additional rankings reflecting curricular offerings and missions. Carnegie's classifications can't be used to determine the best college or university in any category, but can be used to identify all those that might be considered for a grant or an initiative. Beyond the rankings based on these factors, Carnegie also has a system of "elective" classifications in which colleges across all kinds of sector and curricular categories may seek to demonstrate that they possess certain qualities, such as the recently evaluated "community engagement" criteria. (Many institutions immediately issued press releases boasting about their new status.)

While the classifications released today show a preponderance of for-profit institutions among newly classified institutions, they also show growth in the for-profit sector as a share of all institutions -- in both number of institutions and enrollment -- even as all sectors saw increased enrollments.

Shifts by Sector in New Carnegie Classifications

  2005 2010
--Number of public institutions 1,738 1,705
--Percentage of all institutions that are public 39.6% 36.8%
--Number of private, nonprofit institutions 1,745 1,713
--Percentage of all institutions that are private 39.7% 37.0%
--Number of for-profit institutions 909 1,215
--Percentage of all institutions that are for-profit 20.7% 26.2%
--Public institutions total 13,085,114 14,909,531
--Public institutions as a percentage of all students 74.5% 71.9%
--Private, nonprofit total 3,589,454 3,924,278
--Private, nonprofit as a percentage of all students 20.4% 18.9%
--For-profit total 899.896 1,893,712
--For-profit as a percentage of all students 5.1% 9.1%

The rise in the for-profit sector is not the only notable shift. Within the category of "undergraduate instructional program," the new edition shows the shift among institutions toward a greater pre-professional focus. There was an increase of 115 institutions -- or 17 percent -- in the grouping of institutions that (while having some liberal arts offerings) awarded more than 60 percent of their bachelor’s degrees in professional fields. At the same time, the number of institutions with more than 60 percent of bachelor’s degrees in arts and sciences fell by 40 institutions, a 5 percent decrease, from the 2005 classifications.

The new classifications also show significant growth in the number of community colleges that have -- over the last five years -- either started or expanded four-year degree programs. It is still only a minority of community colleges that award any bachelor's degrees, but their numbers are up. Carnegie separates community colleges based on the proportion of bachelor's degrees awarded -- and saw increases both for those at which bachelor's degrees represent fewer than 10 percent of all undergraduate degrees, and those at which bachelor's degrees represent at least 10 percent but less than half of degrees awarded.

Growing Numbers of Community Colleges With Bachelor's Degrees

  2005 2010 % Change
Awards bachelor's degrees, but they represent less than 10% of degrees 109 162 +49%
Bachelor's degrees are at least 10% of degrees awarded, but less than half 120 147 +23%
Nonprofit community colleges that do not award bachelor's degrees 1,174 1,106 -6%

Making the Cut

While the "Research I" designation is gone, the closest thing to it is Carnegie's basic category of research universities with "very high research activity," a group that includes the most prominent research universities in the country. With today's release, there are 108 institutions in that category -- with 14 institutions joining the group, while the University of Colorado at Denver and Kansas State University are no longer eligible.

The new institutions joining the category are: the City University of New York Graduate School and University Center; George Washington, Georgia State, Mississippi State, North Dakota State, Rockefeller and Virginia Commonwealth Universities; and the Universities of Alabama at Huntsville, Arkansas, Central Florida, Houston, Louisville, Oklahoma, and Oregon.

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