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Texas Universities Seeking Top Research Status Will Have a Clearer Path Under New Rules

An elite club in higher education reserved for the top research universities in the country will change its rules of entry in 2025, which could mean a clearer path for Texas universities to obtain the coveted status.

The American Council on Education and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching announced this week they are revising the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. It is a tiered system that classifies schools based on the caliber and breadth of their research activity. Most notably, they are drastically simplifying the qualifications for schools to earn the title of a “R1” research university to just focus on two factors: annual research spending and the number of doctorates a school awards in a year.

The changes will give universities in Texas and across the country that are striving to reach that status a clearer understanding of how to earn a spot in the upper echelon of research institutions, a highly-desired title viewed by university leaders as an important step to help recruit high-quality faculty, obtain more prestigious research grants and grow the national reputation of their campuses.

Starting in 2025, a university can reach R1 status if it spends $50 million on research and awards at least 70 research doctorates annually, slimming the qualifications down from the current 10 metrics that schools must meet to gain the designation.

“Now there will be certainty about what the expectations are,” said Kelly Damphousse, president of Texas State University, which set a goal last year to achieve R1 status by 2027.

The Carnegie Foundation and ACE, which helps to manage the classifications, hope the change will provide more clarity to schools looking to enter and remain in the top tier as well as better reflect the true mission of higher education beyond just research.

“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,” Timothy Knowles, president of the Carnegie Foundation, said in a news release announcing the changes Wednesday. “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.”

A recent review conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education found that four health-related institutions in Texas would immediately qualify for R1 status under the changes: Baylor College of Medicine, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston and the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.

The review also found that Baylor University, which is not affiliated with Baylor College of Medicine, would lose its R1 status because its research expenditures dropped below $50 million in 2021. But administrators say they have increased research spending annually since then, spending $82.5 million on research in the last fiscal year.

“We’ll squarely remain among institutions that meet the R1 classification,” said Kevin Chambliss, vice provost for research at Baylor.

Universities work to achieve R1 status because it helps attract grants and industry partners who might want to work on research projects. It also helps universities recruit faculty and graduate students, who in turn look better to potential employers when graduating from R1 institutions. Many universities across the country have made research a top priority and launched public campaigns setting a goal to reach R1 status.

In Texas, nine public universities and two private universities have R1 status. The University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University awarded over 800 research doctoral degrees each last year, while the University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of Texas at El Paso awarded around 130 doctoral degrees, respectively.

In 2022, when Damphousse became president, Texas State University created the Run to R1 commission to reach the top research status by 2027.

“When Texas State improves, Texas improves,” Damphousse said. “Things like getting an R1 institution … will improve our reputation or improve the quality of our faculty that come here and also the kinds of students that come here as well, and the experiences that they have when they come here.”

Under the new qualifications, Texas State would already meet the requirements for R1 in terms of research expenditures, but it is still low in the number of doctorate students who complete their programs. It has graduated an average of 50 doctoral students annually over the past three years.

Texas State leaders say they are confident the school will hit the metric to graduate 70 doctoral candidates a year due to a recent $80 million investment to increase the number of PhD students. Last year, they enrolled 100 new doctoral students on full scholarships.

A few other Texas universities are close to reaching the top-tier research status under the 2025 Carnegie qualifications, including Texas Tech University Health Science Center and Southern Methodist University in Dallas. TTHSC awarded 76 research doctorates and conducted $44 million in research in 2021. SMU awarded 126 research doctorates in 2022 and conducted $42 million in research in 2021.

“Our priorities have not changed,” SMU Provost Elizabeth G. Loboa said in an email. “SMU will continue to pursue R1 status and these new approaches to the metrics do not change our expectation that the University will achieve it. Our faculty and students deliver research and innovation at the highest levels.”

Loboa said that according to more recent internal data, SMU would already qualify as a R1 university under the new rules, calling it “encouraging.”

“We will need to sustain last year’s performance — at a minimum — to achieve R1 status,” she said.

Lance McMahon, senior vice president for research and innovation at TTHSC, said the health science center is on a positive trajectory to reach R1 status in the next few years, but it will take a lot of work to maintain and increase the number of doctoral graduates.

“The workforce is changing,” McMahon said. Students are “looking for job opportunities in tech and engineering and coding and so the biomedical sciences we’re having to be very creative and evolve very quickly to give students what they want.”

Under the new Carnegie rules, universities will reach the next highest tier of research activity, referred to as R2, if they spend $5 million in annual research and award at least 20 doctorates. A new, third tier, to be known as “research colleges and universities,” will apply to schools that spend at least $2.5 million on research annually but do not award doctoral degrees.

ACE and the Carnegie Foundation are still finalizing their new plan for classifying institutions. They’ll also add a new Social and Economic Mobility Classification, which will group universities based on student characteristics and outcomes. Specifics have yet to be determined but some university leaders have welcomed having a new way to measure the work they are doing to help students from all backgrounds succeed.

Damphousse, who is serving on the advisory board to determine the factors to measure social mobility, said universities should keep top of mind “how hard it is to graduate a student who comes here with those social, cultural, financial and academic challenges they face, how much we have to invest to help them graduate in a timely manner.”

“We’re excited about seeing how we compare to other institutions on this idea of social mobility,” he said.

Texas State is the only university in Texas that is not considered a R1 research institution that would benefit from a new state endowment meant to boost research at public universities beyond UT-Austin and Texas A&M. The new endowment, called the Texas University Fund, requires voter approval in the Nov. 7 election. Damphousse said the changes to the Carnegie classification system come at a good time for this new fund to potentially boost their research abilities.

“As we work towards becoming a R1, up until TUF gets adopted, we’re using resources that we’ve saved up over the years and diverted money from other things that we might want to invest in.” Damphousse said. “So the TUF money will allow us to do things we haven’t done before.”

Source : TheTexasTribune