A photo of Keeny Hall at Louisiana Tech University from September 2016. (Creative Commons license)
An important academic research designation, which can make schools more attractive to potential donors and faculty, is getting a makeover, offering an opportunity for some Louisiana universities to boost their credentials.
The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education confers two designations: R1 status for top universities with “very high” research activity; and R2 status for schools with “high” research activity. The classifications have been determined by a complex formula that took 10 factors into consideration. Moving forward, only two factors will come into play: how much money a school spends on research and the number of degrees it confers.
The changes also come with a new label: Research colleges and universities, which can be awarded to schools that don’t confer doctoral degrees. Any school with at least $2.5 million in research expenditures annually will get this label.
Jim Henderson, president of the University of Louisiana System, praised the new designation in an interview with the Illuminator.
The designation recognizes the research at schools where research is not a primary function, Henderson said.
“They’re doing tremendous research at those institutions,” Henderson said. “It sometimes gets overlooked, and I think this new designation will, I think, allow some institutions to, one, be recognized, but two, create the incentive for them to pursue that.”
With $12.8 million in research expenditures in 2021, the most recent year data was available from the National Science Foundation, Xavier University, a private historically Black university in New Orleans, is on track to get the new designation.
Several other schools in Louisiana are also within grasping distance.
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Grambling State University and the University of Louisiana Monroe fell just short of that cutoff in 2021.
Grambling reported $2.2 million in 2021, down from $2.4 million in 2020 and $2.8 million in 2019. UL Monroe reported $2.2 million in 2021, down from $2.4 million in each of the previous two years.
Two other UL System schools, Southeastern Louisiana and Northwestern State, are within $1 million of reaching the research spending benchmark. See chart below story for data.
The new simplified rankings have also made it easier for colleges to attain R1 status. To be designated as R1, a university must confer at least 70 doctoral degrees annually and spend at least $50 million on research annually. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that 28 universities will likely qualify for the status, although several are at risk of losing it.
All three of Louisiana’s R1 universities, LSU, the University of Louisiana Lafayette and Tulane, are safe. LSU spent nearly $300 million on research in 2021 and conferred 291 doctoral degrees the same year, while UL Lafayette spent $181 million and conferred 85 degrees and Tulane spent $208 million and awarded 188.
Louisiana has three R2 universities: Southern University, the University of New Orleans and Louisiana Tech University.
While none of the three are close to R1, Henderson, who will take over as Tech’s next president, has plans to make it happen.
The Ruston school reported $27.4 million in research expenditures in 2021, when it conferred 44 doctoral degrees.
Henderson said the process will start with making sure the school is reporting all of its research expenditures. After that, the main task is to connect faculty with the funding they need to conduct research, he said.
With the state unable to invest the necessary amount for schools to thrive, Henderson said the university will have to look to private donors, who can provide seed money that would allow researchers to pursue competitive federal grants.
“Then … you start this snowball effect, if you will, and so you’re able to bring the resources to the table which allows you to pursue additional areas of research,” Henderson said.
Attaining the R1 label is not just for the stake of status, higher education leaders say.
“That designation is a reflection of your work,” Henderson said.
UL Lafayette, which received the designation in 2021, is a prime example, he said.
Ramesh Kolluru, UL Lafayette’s vice president for research, innovation and economic development, said having more universities produce research at a high level is good for the state.
Kolluru said that in the last two years, the economic impact of the university — and of its research — on the region and the state has been around $2.7 billion.
“For us achieving this Carnegie designation and maintaining it, sustaining it and growing our posture as a top tier research university is a means to that end, we maximize economic opportunity, we maximize social mobility for our students and create opportunities for all,” Kolluru said.
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