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Laurel Hirt.

Laurel Hirt, director of service learning and community involvement at the Twin Cities campus, was part of the Carnegie Foundation's pilot project that helped to develop the new, elective classification in which colleges and universities can be distinguished.

A national leader in community engagement

Carnegie Foundation picks the U of M-Twin Cities for a new category of colleges and universities

By Stephanie Wilkes

Brief, Jan. 31, 2007

When the decades-old classification system for colleges and universities was overhauled in 2005, planning began for the first elective classification--community engagement. Last month, the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities (UMTC) campus was identified as one of 76 institutions in the new classification's inaugural class. Recognized for dedication to community engagement, the campus will serve as an example for institutions nationwide.

Since 1970, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching's classification system has been recognized as a defining force in the realm of higher education. U.S. News and World Report uses the classifications to compare institutions, and the Research I and Research II classifications are familiar among UMTC's peer institutions.

The new community engagement classification acknowledges collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities as a mutually beneficial exchange.

"The fact that Carnegie recognizes community engagement as valuable--so valuable that they created a classification for it, which institutions can apply for and be part of--will allow community engagement to be more than just a passing fad," says Laurel Hirt, director of Service Learning and Community Involvement at UMTC.

Transforming classifications

The Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, developed in 1967, created the Carnegie classification system to "address the complexity and diversity of US higher education." The system assigned every institution of higher education to one of 18 categories, based on analysis of information collected by outside agencies. But after 35 years, the number of higher education institutions had almost doubled, and the Carnegie Foundation felt it was time to make a change in their popular classification system.

The Carnegie system

The Carnegie Foundation was established by Andrew Carnegie in 1904, and was chartered by Congress in 1905. Originally, it was formed to create a pension system for university faculty, but in the 1920s the pension systems spun off into TIAA-CREF, and the Carnegie Foundation became much of what it is today.

The Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, established in 1967 to analyze issues facing U.S. higher education approaching the 21st century, created the Carnegie classification system to "address the complexity and diversity of U.S. higher education."

"Over the last 20 or 25 years, there has been a growing attention to the range of forms of scholarship that faculty members engage in, including the obligation of the institution to provide benefits to society," says Alexander McCormick, a senior scholar at the Carnegie Foundation in charge of directing the new classification initiative. "That is why it was so important to us to have community engagement be the first elective classification--because it was the most conspicuous omission from the earlier classifications."

The biggest change in the overhaul, according to McCormick, was a move from one classification to a more multidimensional framework with several all-inclusive classifications.

Now the system is based on six all-inclusive classifications: Undergraduate Instructional Program, Graduate Instructional Program, Size and Setting, Enrollment Profile, Undergraduate Profile, and Basic. The Basic classification updates the old single classification. Due to the new method of differentiating community colleges, the Basic classification now has over 30 categories to choose from.

But the foundation didn't stop there. Instead, they looked for ways to broaden the classification system to incorporate different kinds of scholarship.

"We wanted to address some of the blind spots in the classification," says McCormick. "The first of blind spots had to do with institutions that had strong commitment to community engagement, ways in which the institutions both serve their communities and take advantage of their communities as an educational resource. That led to the first elective classification, community engagement."

Addressing a gap

To develop the elective classification, the foundation looked to institutions for help, holding a pilot study in 2005. When the University of Minnesota was asked to participate in the pilot, Hirt was recommended by Craig Swan, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, and Deb Cran from senior vice president Robert Jones's office.

"The foundation recognized that the University had been doing a lot of work through its civic engagement task force in 2000, and that we were one of the few places that had a comprehensive effort to look at public engagement across the entire institution," says Hirt.

She and political science emeritus professor Ed Fogelman visited the Carnegie Foundation center in Palo Alto, California, in January 2005. After two days of discussion about what a community engagement classification should look like, the pilot members went back to their institutions to begin collecting data--a daunting task at a university as large as the U of M Twin Cities.

"I started talking to people all over campus, making phone calls, sending e-mail and visiting lots of Web sites," says Hirt. "I finally got it all together by the end of the summer."

"Each university needs to value public scholarship, within itself and its surrounding community. But we must also act together, in national scholarly societies and higher education organizations, to reinvigorate our great system of higher education." --Victor Bloomfield, associate vice president for public engagement, in "Engaging Campus and Community," 2005.

The pilot project members met again in October 2005 to review their data and discuss next steps. In January 2006, the Carnegie Foundation made recommendations for application, which the pilot members reviewed and discussed. In the spring, the foundation sent out an official call for applications.

As an elective classification, community engagement operates differently than Carnegie's other classifications. Elective classifications are based on voluntary participation by the institutions, involving additional data collection and documentation on the part of each individual university.

Within the community engagement classification, institutions can fit into one or both of two categories: Curricular Engagement, and Outreach and Partnerships. Curricular Engagement recognizes institutions where teaching and learning engage faculty, students, and community in collaboration that addresses community-identified needs and deepens students' academic and civic learning. Outreach and Partnerships focus on two approaches to community engagement: (1) application of institutional resources for community use, and (2) interactions with community and related scholarship to exchange and apply knowledge and resources.

Based on the final guidelines, Hirt collected more data and sent in the completed application in September. Word that UMTC was accepted came Dec. 6.

"We had a target of 100 institutions that we could accommodate through the review process, and we had 145 institutions send a letter of intent," says McCormick. "Of those, we accepted 107 for participation, 88 actually submitted completed documentation frameworks, and we selected 76 to be included in the inaugural classification of community engagement."

According to McCormick, the foundation will hold another call for applications for the community engagement classification in 2008. To apply, institutions must respond to a documentation framework and provide, in some detail, data that indicates the institution's support for community engagement through inclusion in their mission, budgetary allocations, dedicated offices or units, particular examples in the two categories, and assessment mechanisms.

McCormick believes the new classification will help strengthen the importance of community engagement at higher education institutions.

"For institutions that see community engagement as an important part of their mission, this classification provides an opportunity for visibility," he says, "a way to call attention to an institution like the U of M's community engagement identity and commitment."


See also the Carnegie Foundation's news release.

Stephanie Wilkes is a junior in English and linguistics and a communications intern in the Office for Public Engagement. If you have questions or comments, please e-mail wilk0268@umn.edu .


Revised Feb. 1, 2007