Public Review: Carnegie Classifications 2015 Update

By Vic Borden, Professor and Director, Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, Indiana University Bloomington

Carnegie_Classification (003).jpgThe 2015 Update to the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education is now available for public review at the website. Functionally, the public review site allows the user to look up individual institutions and consult the definitions (descriptions and methodologies) for the various classifications. The public review period will continue through the end of January, to allow institutional representatives to examine their status within the six “inclusive classifications,” and to ask questions or otherwise seek clarification from the Classification staff (Vic Borden, Phoebe Wakhungu, and Chris Stewart). We prefer that you send questions and requests to the project email address,, so we can better track and respond to them. On February 1, we will reestablish full functionality of the website, allowing visitors to use the new version of the Classifications for research, benchmarking peer identification, and related purposes.

The Carnegie Classifications include the well-known and oft-cited “basic classification,” which is primarily based on degree program level and scope. The IPEDS 2013-14 completions file is the primary data source used to determine these program characteristics. The system includes five additional classifications: Undergraduate Instructional Program, Graduate Instructional Program, Enrollment Profile, Undergraduate Profile, and Size & Setting. These classifications can be used alone or in combination to understand an institution’s position within the landscape of U.S. higher education.

Public review of the Classifications is especially important for institutions within categories that have some gray areas. For example, the Special Focus designation, although based on empirical criteria, also accommodates mission focus. For this reason, some Faith-Related institutions have more comprehensive degree programs than those that empirically fall within the special focus domain. Similarly, there is an exception related to master’s institutions that are, by mission, primarily baccalaureate institutions that may have, for example, a single master’s program that conferred more than 50 degrees in 2013-14. If you are affiliated with one of these institutions, please make sure to review the Exception section of the basic classification methodology, as you consider the appropriateness of the default category in which your institution was placed. We welcome your questions and comments more generally about the categories, the methodologies, or the placement of a specific institution within the various classifications.

The 2015 update preserves many of the features of the 2010 and 2005 versions, with some changes in labeling, as well a few notable changes to the basic classification. Specifically, the Associate’s Colleges categories were fundamentally changed. The new version first separates out Special Focus two-year institutions, in parallel with the four-year special focus designation that has existed since the original (1976) Classifications. The remaining two-year colleges are placed into nine subcategories based on the crossing of two factors: disciplinary focus (transfer, vocational and technical or mixed) and dominant student type (traditional, nontraditional or mixed).

Although more of a change in description than substance, four-year institutions that confer half or more of their undergraduate degrees at the Associate’s level are now depicted as Baccalaureate/Associate’s colleges with two subtypes: Mixed Baccalaureate/Associate’s (50-<90% Associate’s degrees; previously depicted within the Baccalaureate group) and Associate’s Dominant (90-<100% Associate’s degrees, previously depicted within the Associate’s Colleges categories)

Although designed primarily for higher education researchers and policy makers, the Carnegie Classifications are used for a variety of purposes. Some of these are very much in line with the original intentions, while others have taken on a life of their own. It is well known that U.S. News & World Report bases their categorization of institutions for the Best Colleges rankings on the Carnegie Classification. We have also been informed of situations in which licensing organizations and countries use the classification to determine the acceptability of credentials obtained outside of their local domain. Several granting agencies have also used the Classifications as part of application criteria.

As the current stewards of the Carnegie Classifications, we are both proud of and humbled by the responsibility we have to preserve and possibly expand the usefulness of this legacy system. Going forward, we intend to engage closely with our AIR friends and colleagues to shape the future of the system. We are looking forward to several opportunities for dialogue at the 2016 AIR Forum in New Orleans, as well as through professional networks and networking that we will continue to develop in the months and years ahead.




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