Carnegie classifications offer prestige for MSU; MSU’s ‘high research activity’ noted under Carnegie classification

MSU is one of 108 universities in the US to hold the classification as a research university with very high research activity (RU/VH), according to the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. Since their inception, Carnegie classifications have been and continue to be widely accepted as the standard categorization of accredited US colleges and universities.

“In terms of what MSU gets out of the classification, the answer is largely prestige. Being identified in the RU/VH group says we are a serious player in the nation in terms of research,” said Tracy Ellig, director of university communications. Because of this, many schools strive to obtain or maintain high rankings in the system. MSU received the RU/VH classification from the Foundation in 2005 at a time when there were only 94 universities that held the classification.

Carnegie classifications were created in 1973 by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (CFAT). CFAT was founded for the advancement of education by billionaire steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1905 and chartered in 1906 by Congress. The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education was conceived as a framework for labeling different types of colleges and universities.

Since then, the framework has been updated four times in order to address changes in schools across the nation. On Oct. 14, 2014 the Foundation transferred responsibility for the Carnegie classifications to the Indiana University Center for Post-secondary Research; the change was made effective Jan. 1 2015.

MSU’s placement in the RU/VH class was determined by looking at four research activity correlates: 1) Research and development expenditures in science and engineering, 2) Research and development expenditures in non-science and engineering fields, 3) Science and engineering research staff, 4) Doctoral conferrals in the fields humanities, social science, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and others as well.

While Carnegie classifications can be useful, they are intended to be used as a tool to compare similar institutions instead of diverse ones.

“It’s important to note that the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education is not a rating system; it is an effort to identify institutions with similar characteristics so that comparisons can be made between apples and apples, not apples and oranges,” Ellig explained.

Whatever prestige may be associated with them, Carnegie classifications do not confer explicit advantages, financial or otherwise, on the universities or colleges that receive them. “It only confers the advantages that come with any prestigious title or classification,” Ellig said.

“The classification may help us recruit faculty and graduate students interested in being in ‘research extensive’ environments/institutions – but by no means would the classification ever be the sole criteria by which someone would make a decision to come to MSU,” Ellig said, “Other things such as pay (for faculty), scholarships (for grad students), spousal accommodations, lifestyle fit, the depth of research in a particular area and many other factors come into play when recruiting faculty and graduate students.” He continued, “The classification is certainly helpful, but it does not exist in a vacuum … while the designation does matter to some undergraduates, they still primarily choose colleges based on price, degree availability, location and family affiliation.”