Carnegie Classifications to Make Major Changes in How Colleges and Universities Are Grouped and Recognized, Set Clear Threshold for Highest Level of Research

November 1, 2023

ACE and Carnegie Foundation announce new, more transparent methodology for the current “R1” designation and overall shift to multi-dimensional categories that reflect the diversity of today’s colleges and universities

Washington, D.C. — Today, the American Council on Education (ACE) and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (Carnegie Foundation) announced a series of changes to modernize the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education (Carnegie Classifications), the framework used for five decades to classify American colleges and universities.

The iteration of the Carnegie Classifications that will be released in early 2025 will revise the Basic Classification, which generally places all U.S. colleges and universities into groups based on the highest degree awarded. The updated classifications will create new, multi-dimensional groupings of institutions that go beyond the single label (such as Master’s Colleges and Universities: Medium Programs) that is now assigned to every U.S. college and university. The classification categories will be expanded to more accurately describe the richness and multifaceted nature of today’s colleges and universities and capture additional aspects of institutions’ missions. The precise labels are still under development, and the Carnegie Classifications website has launched a new page to gather additional feedback from the field.

The 2025 Carnegie Classifications will also make significant changes to how research is recognized, including to the methodology that determines whether an institution is classified as R1. As opposed to today’s sliding scale that creates unwarranted competition between institutions, the new threshold establishes a clear and transparent target for institutions whose mission supports prioritizing research. Additionally, the Carnegie Classifications will identify and recognize research contributions made across the vast network of colleges and universities in the country, including at colleges and universities that do not offer doctoral degrees.

“The American higher education landscape is incredibly dynamic and complex. But the Carnegie Classifications as they are organized today do not capture that dynamism or the variety of higher education institutions,” said Ted Mitchell, president of ACE. “We are reimagining the Carnegie Classifications to better group and organize like institutions to accurately reflect the broad scope of their work with students, communities, and the broader public purposes of higher education.”

Additional details about the changes to the 2025 Carnegie Classifications announced today:

  • New dimensions for classifying institutions: The current system provides an institution with a single label that generally is based on the highest degree it awards students, such as a master’s degree. Moving forward, institutions will receive a classification based on multiple labels to help group institutions by more characteristics, such as size, location, and the types of academic programs it offers, in addition to a more robust degree and certificate profile. The specific criteria and methodology have not been finalized, and this is an area where feedback from the field is being sought.
  • New, clear R1 threshold: The R1 methodology has changed significantly over time, with the 2005 update adding a 10-metric formula that involved a normative, relative, and complicated process that left an unclear line between the R1 and R2 designations. This methodology also put institutions in competition with one another to gain entrance into an R1 designation that was capped at a certain number. In the 2025 Carnegie Classifications, the updated methodology will use a clear threshold to define the highest research designation: $50 million in total research spending and 70 research doctorates. In the new methodology, any institution that meets the threshold will be classified as R1: Very High Research Spending and Doctorate Production. The R2 threshold, with that classification now called “High Research Spending and Doctorate Production,” will not change from the current level of $5 million in research spending and 20 research doctorates.
  • Recognizing research outside of doctoral institutions: The classification system will include a new designation known as “Research Colleges and Universities” that identifies research happening at colleges and universities that do not offer many or any doctoral degrees. For instance, this designation will capture research underway at institutions that only serve undergraduate students. Any institution that spends at least $2.5 million on research will be included in this category, provided they are not in the R1 or R2 classifications.

“For five decades, colleges and universities’ reputations have been defined, in large measure, by the amount of research underway and the highest degree conferred. Clearly, these are incomplete measures. They neither reflect the strength or diversity of the postsecondary sector,” said Timothy Knowles, president of the Carnegie Foundation. “The 2025 Carnegie Classifications will create a more robust picture of higher education across the U.S. and make visible those institutions that demonstrably accelerate educational and career opportunities for students.”

The changes announced today are the first in a series of updates that seek to modernize the Carnegie Classifications. Over the coming months, ACE will also release a framework for a new universal Social and Economic Mobility Classification. As a full suite of classifications, the 2025 Carnegie Classifications will recognize and celebrate institutions for a wide range of missions and ways that they serve students. To help further this work, the Social and Economic Mobility Classification will group institutions by looking at a variety of relevant student characteristics and student outcomes.

ACE is collecting feedback on the characteristics and descriptors that institutional leaders, researchers, and stakeholders think best describe U.S. higher education institutions. This input will help to inform final decisions on the dimensions that will be used for the 2025 Carnegie Classifications. For more information, please visit the Carnegie Classifications website, which includes more details on the methodology here and here, commonly asked questions, and a new page to collect feedback.


About the Carnegie Classifications
The Carnegie Classifications are the nation’s leading framework for categorizing and describing colleges and universities in the United States. Utilized frequently by policymakers, funders, and researchers, the Classifications are a critical benchmarking tool for postsecondary institutions. ACE and the Carnegie Foundation announced a partnership in February 2022 to reimagine the Classifications to reflect the diversity and impact today’s institutions have on society.

About ACE
ACE is a membership organization that mobilizes the higher education community to shape effective public policy and foster innovative, high-quality practice. As the major coordinating body for the nation’s colleges and universities, our strength lies in our diverse membership of more than 1,600 colleges and universities, related associations, and other organizations in America and abroad. ACE is the only major higher education association to represent all types of U.S. accredited, degree-granting colleges and universities. For more information, please visit or follow ACE on X (formerly known as Twitter) @ACEducation.

About the Carnegie Foundation
The mission of the Carnegie Foundation is to catalyze transformational change in education so that every student has the opportunity to live a healthy, dignified, and fulfilling life. Enacted by an act of Congress in 1906, the Foundation has a rich history of driving transformational change in the education sector, including the establishment of TIAA-CREF and the creation of the Education Testing Service, the GRE, and the Carnegie Classifications for Higher Education. The Foundation was also instrumental in the formation of the U.S. Department of Education and Pell Grants, and most recently in the use of networked improvement science to redress systemic inequities in educational opportunities and outcomes.