How 1 dynamic sector is due for big gains thanks to changes to the Carnegie Classification

"Back then, universities looked completely different than they do now," says Derrick Anderson, vice president of ACE's Education Futures. "Bringing Carnegie over to ACE allowed us to modernize it in a way that was more reflective of the true diversity and evolution of American higher education."

In the 40 years of the Carnegie Classification, doctoral institutions have vied for the coveted R1 class, a mark of excellence in research. But things are changing. Since announcing an overhaul in its metrics starting in 2025, a spate of institutions known for their dynamic approach to ensuring workforce viability and equitable academic pathways are due for some long-awaited recognition.

The American Council on Education (ACE), the nonprofit that now stewards over the Carnegie Classification, is modernizing the decades-old system because it recognizes how higher education has transformed since its first publication in 1973, says Derrick Anderson, vice president of ACE’s Education Futures. In its current rendition, the system categorizes institutions by the highest degree they confer, indirectly penalizing institutions that aren’t solely focused on academic rigor and prestige.

“Back then, universities looked completely different than they do now,” Anderson says. “Bringing Carnegie over to ACE allowed us to modernize it in a way that was more reflective of the true diversity and evolution of American higher education.”

One kind of institution ready for the Carnegie (re)Classification is the dual-mission university. Universities that fit this bill usually provide a robust range of degree and non-degree programs across traditional and flexible, online formats. They are regional universities conferring degrees at the associate, bachelor’s and graduate levels while also providing short-term, non-degree credential and certificate workforce development programs.

Anderson believes that the work of dual-mission institutions has validated ACE’s efforts to expand an antiquated system to recognize institutions with a more pragmatic approach to higher education by promoting workforce readiness.

“One thing that I love about the dual mission institutions is that they embrace that change and they reflect the significance of that change,” Anderson says.

For example, President Carrie Hauser of Colorado Mountain College (Colo.) explains how normal it is for adult learners with a master’s degree to enroll in non-degree and associate-level programs to acclimate to the surrounding region’s workforce.

“Colorado Mountain College deserves a lot of credit for leaning into that dynamic because, in the data, that makes them look bad,” says Anderson. “The data doesn’t really reward institutions for granting associate degrees to people who already have bachelor’s degrees.”

Dual-mission universities and others similar to it are special in that they serve a broad range of students at a relatively low cost, empowering students from nontraditional backgrounds a less inhibitive door into higher education, says Gailda Davis, assistant vice president and executive director for ACE Connect.

“One of the things that was not being recognized as a standard of excellence within the previous system was that certain types of institutions were creating pathways toward equity and creating more opportunities for upward economic mobility for students and their families within these regions,” Davis says.

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What do dual-mission institutions stand to gain?

As deeply as Anderson lauds the work of dual-mission institutions, there is still ambiguity in the exact amount of institutions that can be classified as one. The new Carnegie Classification, set to open in 2025, will help connect dual mission institutions, says Jessica Oyler, vice president of Student Access and Success at Weber State University (Utah).

“I think the biggest benefit is to be able to pull institutions similar to us,” Oyler says. “I’ve worked with data quite a bit, and one of the challenges is looking at open enrollment institutions that offer multiple different types of degrees. There just aren’t a whole lot of us out there.”

Oyler believes that Weber and other dual mission institutions are picking up traction because they are meeting the needs of adult learners and students graduating high school, two cohorts that are increasingly showing similar patterns and preferences in their education. Eighty-five percent of her students work across all age demographics, according to Oyler.

“What’s the funniest thing to me is that we will frequently say our adult learners want to access online or in the evening,” she says. “But nowadays, just as often, those students coming straight out of high school who are balancing so much wanting the same thing.”

She also mentioned recent data from the National Student Clearinghouse illustrating how students of all ages are seeking short-term, non-degree credentials and certificates. Weber not only offers these kinds of programs for workforce development, but it also leads the way in offering stackable credentials and pathways for those who’d like to further their education. For example, students can take a non-credit certification in electric vehicles and “stack” it into viable credit for an associate degree in automotive technology, which is then conducive toward a bachelor’s.

It’s no wonder Weber’s 2-year to 4-year transfer pipeline is so strong; 65% of its associate degree earners return the next term to pursue a bachelor’s, according to Oyler. It’s also seeing enrollment increases in its adult-age population, thanks in part to academic transition advisors who are reaching out to stopped-out students and proving them viable onramps to postsecondary education.

“It’s about meeting students where they are and when they need us,” she says.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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