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Latest Carnegie Classification reflects changing higher education landscape

For Immediate Release Dec 15, 2021

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Reflecting the changing landscape of higher education, the 2021 update of the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education features a smaller number of classified institutions.

The Carnegie Classification, produced by the Center for Postsecondary Research at Indiana University, is the leading framework for describing the diversity of U.S. colleges and universities. The tool is used by researchers, policymakers and administrators, as well as for informing grant-making and federal and state funding of institutions. It is even the basis for the categories of annual rankings such as U.S. News & World Report.

The classifications published today are available for review by higher education leaders and administrators over the next six weeks. The listing of institutions in one of more than 30 basic classification categories becomes official by the end of January.

The classifications are based on the design and reach of research and teaching programs. The Carnegie Classification also categorizes institutions by undergraduate and graduate instructional programs, enrollment profile, undergraduate profile, size and setting.

Project director Victor Borden said the latest classification continues a trend since IU took responsibility to develop the classification updates in 2014. Updates are completed every three years, and the 2018 update saw the number of institutions shrink from 4,600 to 4,300. The 2021 update classifies just under 3,900 institutions.

“We’ve seen a contraction mostly through a combination of closures and mergers,” said Borden, who is also a professor of higher education and student affairs in the IU School of Education. Borden said that most sectors of higher education compressed, but not in the category of the largest research institutions.

“The bachelor’s institutions categories decreased by close to 20% in number,” he said, “but the research and doctoral universities are the one sector that has grown, by just about 10%.”

The Carnegie Commission on Higher Education developed the classification using empirical data from colleges and universities starting in 1973, with updates originally every five years. Since the IU Center for Postsecondary Research took stewardship in 2014, updates moved to every three years. The two previous updates from IU included changes to associate-degree-granting colleges in 2015 and doctoral university categories in 2018.

The 2021 update will be the final one administered by the IU Center for Postsecondary Research. Operational and administrative responsibility for the classification will move to Albion College in Michigan, which already conducts the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification, an elective designation that indicates extraordinary institutional commitment to community engagement by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

“In Carnegie’s view, both Indiana University and especially the project under Victor Borden’s leadership have discharged their responsibilities as stewards of the classifications extraordinarily well and have provided a great service to the field,” said Paul LeMahieu, senior vice president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

The Center for Postsecondary Research is a research center of the IU School of Education. It promotes student success and institutional effectiveness through research and service to postsecondary institutions and related agencies. Center personnel assist institutions and agencies in gathering and using data for decision-making and institutional improvement. It also houses the National Survey of Student Engagement and the related Faculty Survey of Student Engagement, Law School Survey of Student Engagement and Beginning College Survey of Student Engagement.

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Chuck Carney

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Office of the Vice President for Research

April Toler

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