The Carnegie Classification® is the leading framework for recognizing and describing institutional diversity in U.S. higher education. The Carnegie Commission on Higher Education developed the classification in 1973 to support its program of research and policy analysis. Derived from empirical data on colleges and universities, the Carnegie Classification was updated in 1976, 1987, 1994, 2000, 2005, 2010, 2015, 2018, and 2021 to reflect changes among colleges and universities.

The framework is used in the study of higher education and are intended to be an objective, degree-based lens through which researchers can group and study similar institutions. Carnegie Classifications are used in research study design to ensure adequate representation of sampled institutions, students, or faculty.

In 2022, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the American Council on Education (ACE) partnered to re-envision the future of the Carnegie Classifications. As part of that agreement, the Universal and Elective Classifications have been brought together under a single organizational home at ACE. The two organizations are now working together to develop new and refined versions of the Classifications to better reflect the public purpose, mission, focus, and impact of higher education.

What are the Carnegie Classifications?

The Carnegie Classifications are a system for organizing the diverse set of degree-granting colleges and universities in the United States. They were originally intended to be a tool for researchers to further their study of higher education, with the first Basic classification organizing institutions by the types of degrees they awarded.

There are two types of classifications within the Carnegie Classifications. The first are Universal classifications, which are given to all degree-granting institutions. There are six Universal classifications. The second type are Elective, which institutions must seek and apply for. There are two Elective classifications.

What are Universal Classifications?

The Universal classifications are organizational groupings and labels that are given to all degree-granting institutions in the United States. Institutions are given their classifications based on data they have reported to federal sources, including the National Center for Education Statistics and National Science Foundation.

There are six Universal classifications: Basic, Undergraduate Instructional Program, Graduate Instructional Program, Enrollment Profile, Undergraduate Profile, and Size and Setting. The Basic was first introduced in 1973 with the five additional Universal classifications introduced in 2005. The methodology has been revised periodically.

What are Elective Classifications?

Institutions apply to be recognized for a particular Elective Classification theme and make extraordinary commitments to that theme. Elective Classifications are not awards. They are evidence-based documentation of institutional policy and practices focusing on areas such as institutional culture and mission, curricular and co-curricular programming, continuous improvement activities, and the recruitment and reward of faculty, staff, and students.

Becoming an elective classified institution requires the investment of substantial effort by participating institutions to provide evidence of the commitment to a special purpose, demonstrated with precision across the breadth of the institution. These Classifications are an institutional recognition given to an individual campus and as such requires that the self-study process consider and document many aspects of the institutional life of a campus.

How does ACE partner with Carnegie?

In 2022, ACE began a partnership with the Carnegie Foundation to take stewardship of both the Universal classifications, which through 2021 were managed by Indiana University-Bloomington, and the Elective classifications. ACE and the Carnegie Foundation are now collaborating on the vision and future of the Carnegie Classifications, including revising the methodology for the Basic classification, adding a Social and Economic Mobility Universal classification, and expanding the suite of Elective classifications. Additionally, ACE and the Carnegie Foundation are meeting and collaborating with advisory groups, including a Technical Review Panel and Institutional Roundtable.

Recommended Citation (APA Format)

Current Version

Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research (n.d.). The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, 2021 edition, Bloomington, IN: Author.

Web Site

The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education (n.d.). About Carnegie Classification. Retrieved (date optional) from https://carnegieclassifications.acenet.edu/.


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