The Corner

Education

How the ‘Carnegie Classifications’ Waste Educational Resources

Many years ago, the Carnegie Foundation began classifying colleges and universities. The top universities were classified R-1, indicating that they did a great deal of high-powered research. An R-2 university was a notch below those, with somewhat less going into research. This scheme was harmless at first, but now that prestige and money depend on “moving up,” many colleges and universities try to game the system.

In today’s Martin Center article, law-school dean Allen Mendenhall discusses the Carnegie Classifications and explains the damage they do. “The main problem with the Carnegie classifications, he writes,  “is that they create the incentive for educational malinvestment on a grand scale. When a university’s administration seeks to move from R-3 to R-2 or R-2 to R-1, they churn out more doctorates and hire more faculty than the market demands.”

Much of the “research” cranked out by the faculty is is scant benefit — except to boost the numbers in hopes of “improving” in the classification game. But since much of the cost is borne by the government and students foolishly pursuing the dream of winning tenure some day, why not?

Up until now, law degrees have not counted in this system, but that is about to change, apparently. The Carnegie folks want to start counting “research” law degrees like the S.J.D. toward the classification levels (but still not the standard Juris Doctor degree). Mendenhall thinks it’s a trap to be avoided: “That might seem an attractive inducement, but one that would be economically unsound for most schools. Law deans should resist going the way of the humanities.”

The Carnegie Classification system has already done quite enough to propel America’s degree mania. Let’s hope that this new inducement doesn’t lead to more “investment” in legal education.

George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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