Carnegie classification system adds 30 national universities to USNWR rankings

GMU joins the ranks of R1 research institutions.

For those who routinely follow news in higher education, last month’s release of the 2015 Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education was huge. There was controversy and quite a bit of excitement as new metrics produced under a program now sponsored by Indiana University (with support from the Lumina Foundation) resulted in new classifications — some more prestigious and some less so.

Little known to the general public, Carnegie classifications guide how analysts, government officials, foundations, and academics perceive more than 4,600 colleges and universities — all accredited, degree-granting institutions in the U.S. Although the framework primarily serves educational and research purposes, it has many other uses for anyone wanting to identify groups of “roughly comparable” institutions.

For example, these classifications provide the framework for how U.S. News groups colleges and universities for its annual rankings. Institutions that Carnegie classifies as “doctoral universities” are those awarding at least 20 doctorates for research or scholarship in an academic year, not counting law or medical degrees. These are labeled by U.S. News as “National Universities” and are ranked within that category.

And make no mistake — these kinds of distinctions are closely monitored by the postsecondary community. According to Inside Higher Ed, these tags can send some institutions into “fits of anger or excitement over perceived insult or approval for how they are classified compared to their peers” in large part because of how the classifications are used for rankings.

Additionally, the designations have importance for both undergrads and graduate students interested in attending schools with high-profile research programs. Top-tier Carnegie classification also “amplifies the ability to attract top faculty and more research dollars” according to a press release from Temple University announcing its elevation to an R1 research institution.

Under the 2015 Classification, there are now 335 doctoral universities subdivided into R1 or highest research activity (the elite corps of research institutions), R2 or higher research activity and R3 moderate research activity. They break out as follows:

Eight schools that had been R1 in the previous classification dropped to R2 including Dartmouth College, as well as Mississippi State, Montana State, North Dakota State, Rockefeller University (NY), the University of Alabama in Huntsville,Yeshiva, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI).

Not surprisingly, the change in status did not go over too well at RPI or with some Dartmouth undergrads and alums who are understandably proud of Dartmouth’s emphasis on the undergraduate experience and associated research programs.

“While a single number is probably fun for public relations, the real issue is whether a particular institution is effective for the purposes of any individual,” wrote John Lombardi, director of the Center for Measuring University Performance, in an email to The Dartmouth. “Students, researchers, business, employers, graduate schools, all look at somewhat different characteristics in the type of high quality college or university that Dartmouth is.”

In the meantime, fifteen schools moved up from R2 to R1:

Boston College
Clemson University
Florida International University
George Mason University
Kansas State University
Northeastern University
Syracuse University
Temple University
Texas Tech
University of Texas at Arlington
University of Texas at Dallas
University of Mississippi
University of North Texas
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
West Virginia University

But these were not the only notable shifts in classification. Over 30 schools moved into the ranks of doctoral universities. This effectively catapults them into the prestigious U.S. News category of national universities. Previously they were referred to as “masters universities” by Carnegie and regional institutions by U.S. News.

Among those elevated were Boise State University, Cal State Fullerton, Eastern Michigan University, Fresno State, Kennesaw State University, Liberty University, Montclair State University, Rochester Institute of Technology, San Francisco State, Tennessee Tech, UC Merced, University of Louisiana-Monroe, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, University of West Georgia, and Villanova University.

And if the press releases associated with these announcements are any indication, these schools are VERY excited about their new designations.

For more information on the new classifications and the metrics used to create them, visit the Carnegie Classification website.

This article first appeared on on March 21, 2016.