Retooled Carnegie Classifications to better recognize institutions that spur social and economic mobility 

For almost 50 years, higher education has used the Carnegie Classification system to describe and group institutions according to the types of degrees they confer and the research they produce. The organizational framework also underpins popular rankings lists, including U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges report.

The publication has used the Carnegie Classification system for decades in order to categorize and rank U.S. colleges and universities across four main groups: National Universities, National Liberal Arts Colleges, Regional Universities, and Regional Colleges.

Related: Georgetown University among top in the nation for quality, affordability in Washington Monthly’s 2022 College Guide >

However, in a recent article in The Washington Post, Timothy F.C. Knowles, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, say they take issue with how “college ranking systems oversimplify and distort the value of a higher education degree” and highlight several forthcoming Carnegie Classification updates that could make it necessary for U.S. News to revisit its rankings methodology.

Related: Department of Education announces college completion calls for greater focus on equity >

New Carnegie Classifications will emphasize mobility, equity

The recent release of U.S. News’ 2023 college list has renewed criticisms about the methodology behind its rankings and a focus on elitism, including the reliance on surveys that ask higher education leaders about their views on schools’ reputations. Although the reputation survey has a 34% response rate, it accounts for 20% of a school’s ranking, The Washington Post reports.

College rankings based on a school’s reputation come at the “expense of students, institutions, and our society,” Knowles and Mitchell say. “Too many students, parents, policymakers, and the general public view higher education through a narrow prism, in no small part due to the way U.S. News and other rankings celebrate prestige and selectivity.” They hope that changes to the Carnegie Classification system, which they outline in The Post, will spotlight the range of schools that support the success of diverse student populations. Expected to launch in 2024, the changes to the Carnegie Classification system will include:

  • New measures that evaluate schools’ ability to provide better access to higher education, increase student retention and success, help students obtain post-graduate employment, and assist graduates in managing student debt 
  • A new Social and Economic Classification system that determines how well colleges provide social and economic opportunities for their students and is “more sophisticated” than the one currently used by U.S. News & World Report 
  • Recognition of a wider range of institutional excellence among the 4,000 higher education institutions across the country and the 25.5 million students they serve each academic year. In comparison, the U.S. News’ 50 top-ranked U.S. colleges and universities serve only 1.4 million students. 
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