'Professional practice' doctoral studies growing in the US
Changes in the categories of doctoral universities were made to "better accommodate" the awarding of "doctor's degrees -- professional practice," such as doctoral degrees in medicine, law, pharmacy and divinity. Source: Facebook/@uarizonalaw

The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education recently added “doctor’s degree — professional practice” in their methodology for the first time.

Formerly referred to as “first professional degrees” and including such degrees as the MD, JD, Pharm.D., D.Div, etc, they were not included before the new specific changes were made to the Doctoral Universities categories, Inside Higher Ed reported.

Doctoral universities will now be categorised in one of three ways: “very high research activity”, “high research activity” or “doctoral/professional universities”.

“The first two doctoral university categories include institutions that conferred at least 20 research/scholarship doctorates and reported a minimum of US$5 million dollars of total research expenditures through the NSF HERD (National Science Foundation’s Higher Education Research and Development Survey (HERD)) survey,” the update said.

“The remaining institutions that either had less than US$5 million in research expenditures or did not report research expenditures through the HERD survey, were placed into the third, newly named category — Doctoral/Professional Universities.”

Since 1970, the Carnegie Classification is the main framework in recognising and describing the diverse higher education landscape in the US.

The classification of more than 4,500 colleges and universities, published every five years, is derived from empirical data to reflect changes in the sector. From 2018, the classification will be updated every three years.

What this new shift in the classifications represents is the significant changes happening in the sector today, according to Victor Borden, project director for the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education and a professor of higher education and student affairs at Indiana University.

While the classification was intended for research and policy purposes, it has become an integral part of the fabric of higher education, Borden said.

Speaking to Inside Higher Ed, Borden said this year’s update “acknowledges the fact that universities have expanded their offerings” as well as “reflects a little better the current landscape of higher education.”

“Things are changing much more quickly than they used to in terms of institutions,” he said.

Under the new categorisation, there are now 259 institutions that can call themselves “high” or “very high” research universities while another 165 are now “doctoral/professional universities”.

The first two are equivalent to R1 and R2 institutions, the first of which is informally known as the pinnacle of higher education. There are now 120 R1 institutions, up from 115 in 2015.

For doctoral students, this classification, which implies the breadth of research resources available at an institution, is an important source of information to show how one institution differs from another.

More research resources facilitate scholarship and collaboration for students and faculty, paving the way for groundbreaking research.

Take note, however, that while the R1 and R2 categories are data-driven descriptions of institutions, they shouldn’t be considered as another form of rankings or ratings system for universities.

Kevin Kinser, an associate professor of educational administration and policy studies at the State University of New York, who sits on the advisory board of the Carnegie initiative told the Washington Post that the fact some universities are not placed in the R1 category “shouldn’t be considered as some deficiency in the institution”.

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