College regains 'R1' research classification

by Blake McGill | 2/1/19 3:15am

After losing its “R1” status in 2015, the College regained the top research classification determined by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education in its latest report. 

Several factors contributed to the College regaining its R1 status, according to vice provost for research and biochemistry professor at the Geisel School of Medicine Dean Madden. 

“One of them, frankly has been the capital campaign,” he said. “Resources that have been brought in have been supporting both teaching and research.”

Madden said that there has been more financial support for faculty initiatives and hiring.

“All of that collectively feeds into the numbers that influence the Carnegie ranking,” he explained.

Another factor Madden credited was a science strategy review — a faculty-compiled report that examined the practices of the College’s science departments — that was delivered in December 2016. 

“It did a very deep dive ... it helped us to understand where the resources were being allocated,” he said. “It also did comparisons to peers. All of that helped us to make sure we were doing an ‘apples to apples’ reporting [to our peer institutions].” 

Madden said he believes that regaining the R1 classification is a positive step for the future of the College.

“From a signaling perspective, I think it is important that Dartmouth is demonstrating that it does research,” he said. “Almost all the research on campus is being done by students working with faculty members. I think it’s really exciting that we can show that you can do that kind of research and still be competing at the very highest level.” 

He added that the recognition of the College’s research helps promote Dartmouth to prospective students and faculty. 

“Perhaps most important of all,” Madden said, “Restoring the recognition of Dartmouth’s research quality, it is going to help recruit and retain the strongest students and the strongest faculty. It’s that community of excellence here that is both important for the learning and the research.” 

This information helped to clarify that some of the differences between the College and its peer institutions were not a question of investment in research, but rather a lack of reporting of the research being conducted. 

“Another piece of it is that [between 2015 and 2018] the faculty had been increasingly successful at developing new research directions and getting extramural research support,” Madden said, and that Dartmouth has been investing funds in faculty potential for extramural support for their scholarly activities.

Victor Borden, current project director for the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, explained that he and his team at the Center for Post-Secondary Research at Indiana University create a research activity index that comprises a number of different indicators of research activity. Four of the indicators pertain to research doctoral degrees and the remaining three focus on staffing and expenditures.

“We decide on a cut point,” Borden said. “The institutions above the cut point are R1 and those below it are R2.” 

He noted that the classifications are simple assortments based on a complex measure of research activity.

“We try to make it a comprehensive index ... so that institutions with a more comprehensive array of programs will get activity registered through those different [kinds of activity],” he said. 

He said that the classification is not intended to reflect research quality or impact, and that there is no intent for the qualification to have a positive or negative implication for the institution. He added that it is simply a quantitative level of research measure.

Borden remarked that the Carnegie Classifications’ role as a marker of prestige is an unintended consequence of the project.

“We do include an aggregate measure and a per capita measure per faculty, so we can enable smaller, but intensive research universities ... Dartmouth would fall into that category,” he said.  

When the College was demoted to an R2 classification during the 2015 assessment, Borden said it coincided with a change in the Carnegie Classification methodology that gave less weight to the per capita index — a calculation that was previously used in an effort to level the playing field for smaller research institutions like the College. 

“But that change was still in there this year, when Dartmouth went back in to R1,” he said. “It’s hard to tell if that made the difference because it was in a different context, but it was the first time [Borden and his team] did the classifications.” 

Borden explained that for colleges and universities that do not definitively fall in either the R1 or R2 category, the consistent shifts in the methodology may change their placement.

“The landscape may have moved relative to us [in 2015],” Madden said. “I don’t think you would find that we had a setback. Maybe it is that we didn’t grow as much as our peers appeared to.”  

He also acknowledged that the methodological shifts and complexities of the classification could have been a reason for the 2015 demotion.