Happening Today: Education Week Leadership Symposium. Learn more and register.

Carnegie Revises Its Classifications

By Alyson Klein — March 21, 2006 1 min read

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has revamped its 36-year-old system for classifying U.S. colleges and universities.

The new system, unveiled last month, puts more emphasis on what those institutions are teaching and who their students are, said Alexander C. McCormick, a senior scholar with the Stanford, Calif.-based foundation. The original system was based largely on the type of degrees an institution granted and how much research it did.

The Carnegie Foundation’s system is used by a number of organizations, most prominently U.S. News & World Report magazine, which uses the categories in part to determine the groups within which colleges get compared with one another other for its oft-debated annual rankings.

Carnegie’s revised system adds five new classifications. One is based on a college’s enrollment profile and includes categories for two-year schools serving just undergraduates, and four-year schools serving mostly undergraduates, among others. The other classifications focus on size and setting, and graduate and undergraduate instructional programs.

Carnegie also revamped its original classifications, now called the “basic system,” to better reflect institutions’ missions, Mr. McCormick said. The original system might have focused too heavily on institutions’ research functions, inadvertently encouraging them to channel resources away from instruction, he said.

“It’s a problem that a lot of people have acknowledged,” Mr. McCormick said. He said that many campuses have placed a premium on “having research activity and Nobel Prize winners” instead of on first-rate teaching, in part to move into what they consider to be a more prestigious Carnegie category.

As for U.S. News’ college rankings, Carnegie notes on its Web site that the magazine uses national and regional categories that don’t spring from Carnegie’s system. The Carnegie Web site includes a statement from U.S. News, confirmed by the magazine, that it will take Carnegie’s new system into account for its rankings that will appear in 2007, but that it was too late to consider them for the list that will come out later this year.

A version of this article appeared in the March 22, 2006 edition of Education Week