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Carnegie Classification for Community Engagement

As previously noted, by the early 2000s, American higher education acknowledged community engagement as not only an important pedagogical model, but also an institutional strategy to align practice and policy. During this time, colleges and universities aimed to institutionalize community' engagement, often examining how engagement affects students’ academic achievement and development, faculty members’ teaching and development, and institutional infrastructure (Saltmarsh & Johnson, 2018).

The Carnegie Foundation had been classifying institutions for over three decades, but in the early 2000s the Foundation developed an elective classification for community engagement to recognize and reward institutions for thoughtful and responsible engagement. This classification sought to acknowledge institutions of higher learning that prioritize community engagement in their academic and co-curricular processes, specifically' evaluating foundational indicators, curricular engagement, outreach, and partnerships (McCormick & Zhao, 2005; Saltmarsh & Johnson, 2018).

The Carnegie Classification for Community Engagement defines community engagement as the collaboration between institutions and their larger communities for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity' (Brown University-Swearer Center, n.d.). Therefore, for the Carnegie classification, community engagement affords the opportunity' for institutions to co-create knowledge and share resources with the community' for civic development and community’ transformation.

As of January 2017, Brown University’s Swearer Center has served as the home of the Carnegie Foundation’s Classification for Community Engagement, as part of their College and University Initiative (Brown University-Swearer Center, n.d.). In order to obtain the voluntary designation, institutions must submit copious amounts of evidence related to institutional mission, identity', and partnerships with their application. Any institution that has the basic Carnegie Classification is eligible to apply for the voluntary designation. The program operates on a five-year cycle, so applicants accepted in the 2020 cy'cle can re-certify or re-apply in 2025.

This model of designation is the result of changes made to each documentation cycle based on “changes in the community engagement field and/or gaps identified in the framework” (Brown University-Swearer Center, n.d.). Initial cohorts in 2005 were able to seek classification in three separate categories: curricular engagement, outreach and partnerships, or both. However, over the years, the frameworks were combined to recognize holistic institutionalized community engagement efforts, and applications now require compelling evidence of both approaches to engagement (Brown University-Swearer Center, n.d.).

Colleges and universities often seek to obtain the voluntary designation in order to initiate a structured self-assessment process and critically evaluate their community-engaged processes and programs. In addition, institutions may also pursue the designation as a way to elevate and validate the work they are doing in the community, as the designation currently serves as one of the highest forms of recognition for community engagement in education.

It is important to note that there arc many campuses actively involved in community engagement work that do not currently hold a Carnegie designation. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching currently has 361 designated campuses with the elective Community Engagement classification—83 of which received their first designation in the 2015 cycle (Brown University-Swearer Center, n.d.). Yet only 81 (22.4%) with the designation arc institutions with Christian religious affiliations (U.S. Department of Education, n.d.). More than half (65.4%) of these religiously affiliated institutions belonged to CCCU or ACCU, representing roughly 5% (7/143) of the CCCU membership (governing members, associate members, and collaborative partners), and nearly 13% (46/362) of the ACCU membership.

Although the classification is a useful tool for engaging in internal inquiry and reflection, its measures do not account for applied or public research, community-based internships, economic development, or volunteerism and charitable work. Therefore, there are many institutions that arc engaging with their local communities outside of the measurable parameters of the classification, or which have chosen not to pursue the designation due to a lack of internal support and resources to engage the self-study process necessary to achieve the designation. Due to these constraints, it must be considered that many institutions, such as Christian institutions, may embed community engagement into their policies, procedures, programs, and curriculum, but may not hold the community engagement Carnegie designation for various reasons.

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