Within the realm of higher education, the Carnegie Classifications are well known. In 1973, in an effort to support its program of research and policy analysis, the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education created a system for understanding and classifying the vast array of institutions of higher education across the nation. Since the early 1970s, the basic classification system has been updated many times, with a major overhaul announced this week. The classifications were originally intended to be used by researchers who want to group like institutions together and study similar institutional types. They have come to be used by funders, the federal government, and others to determine an institution’s research and teaching strengths as well. Although much of the national focus around the Carnegie Classifications is on research institutions, in recent years, several new classifications have been introduced, including one focused on Community Engagement and another on Leadership for Public Purpose.
The Community Engagement classification aims to recognize and support institutions that are actively involved with their surrounding communities, integrate service into their mission, and contribute to the larger public good. The Leadership for Public Purpose classification builds upon the foundation of the Community Engagement classification, highlighting the significance of ethical and socially responsible leadership on campus, in the community and as a part of civic engagement efforts. These classifications are especially in line with the work that Minority Serving Institutions (MSI) do in their local and state communities, as well as for the nation overall. According to Marisol Morales, Executive Director, Carnegie Elective Classifications at the American Council on Education, “MSIs should take this as an opportunity to not only claim these [ideas] as part of their institutional identity but also to be recognized for the work they are already doing in community engagement and leadership for public purpose. Our hope and desire are that those institutions that achieve the elective classifications represent the diverse landscape of higher education in the U.S., MSIs representation is key to achieving that goal.” Fresno State University in Fresno, California is one of these MSIs.
Fresno State University holds two MSI designations as well as Carnegie’s Community Engagement classification. It is both a Hispanic-Serving and an Asian American Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution. The campus boasts a highly diverse student body, reflecting the surrounding communities. In Fall 2023, Fresno State enrolled 23,929 students, of whom 21,279 are undergraduates, and of these 12,135 (57%) are low-income (defined as PELL Grant eligible) and 13,799 (64.8%) are first-generation students. In addition, 13,641 (57%) are Hispanic and 2,902 (12.1%) are Asian American or Pacific Islander (AAPI), most of whom are Southeast Asians (Hmong, Vietnamese, Laotian, or Cambodian).
According to Fresno State President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, “a Fresno State degree is transformational for the individual, their entire families, and the diverse communities of the Central Valley. This is evident by the high rankings on social mobility Fresno State holds. We seek to ensure that our students feel a sense of belonging, not only to the University, but to the larger community from which they come and to which many of our students will return.”
Eighty percent (80%) of Fresno State’s graduates stay in the region after graduation. The University seeks to generate leaders for the community and is keenly aware that the diverse communities need strong leaders to elevate the region. Through the leadership of the Richter Center for Community Engagement, Fresno State is actively serving the community – the university provides over one million hours of community service per year, and has done this for more than a decade. Fresno State is also involved in important development projects in the Fresno area, including F3 (Food, Farm and Future) and DRIVE (Developing the Region’s Inclusive and Vibrant Economy). According to Jiménez-Sandoval, “These development projects are fundamental to the social and economic development of the region, through leveraging state and federal grants that invest in economic projects, and through a concerted effort to call attention to the Central Valley’s pivotal importance to the nation’s food security.”
Researchers John Saltmarsh and Mathew Johnson, who have studied both community engagement and the Carnegie Elective Classification, state, “Campuses that make serious, dedicated commitments to community engagement are changing the core culture of their institutions. The process is intentional and strategic, with long-term commitments and formal obligations. It shapes and clarifies the campus identity. For campuses making these kinds of commitments, the Carnegie Classification for Community Engagement provides an opportunity for rigorous self-assessment and public recognition.”
Fresno State, which is focused on strengthening the Central Valley of California, was one of the first universities to receive the Community Engagement designation, being awarded it first in 2006 and again in 2015. With this emphasis and commitment, the university seeks to “1.) grow by serving and addressing regional issues in ways that can influence the world; 2.) encourage a culture of giving back to the campus and the region; and 3.) inspire students to be global leaders and to spread the knowledge, values and respect they have learned.
Fresno State is preparing to apply for the Leadership for Public Purpose classification as well. Jiménez-Sandoval stated: “We recognize the important role that [the University] plays as a leader, to bring people together, and to be one with and of the community within which it resides.” He believes that the core tenet of leadership for public purpose is reinforced in the Fresno State curriculum and throughout the programs that serve the local community.
Reinforcing the importance of the classifications to Fresno State, Jiménez-Sandoval shared, “Our impact and these designations contribute to our being the flagship university within the Central Valley, the home of the fifth largest city in California and 25% of the agricultural production that feeds our nation. These designations build our prestige and make our diverse and talented students proud to be pursuing and earning a degree from Fresno State.”
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