A primer: What’s this about Carnegie and community engagement?

Jordyn Senstock reads to children at Lincoln's Northeast YMCA
Craig Chandler | University Communication
Jordyn Senstock, a nutrition and health sciences major, reads to children at Lincoln's Northeast YMCA as part of the 2019 Husker Reading Challenge.
February 19, 2020

Lincoln, Neb. —During his Feb. 14 State of Our University address, Chancellor Ronnie Green outlined the six major aims of the N2025 Plan, a five-year strategy that’s guiding the University of Nebraska–Lincoln toward a set of bold goals for the university’s next 25 years.

One of those six aims, as stated in the N2025 Plan: “Broaden Nebraska’s engagement in community, industry and global partnerships.” Part of that aim, Green said during his address, involves applying for classification as a Carnegie Community Engagement Campus.

“We just celebrated our 150th anniversary as a committed people’s university to all of the people of this state — whether it’s the rural areas, the urban areas, across our entire state of Nebraska,” Green said. “I will tell you that if there is an institution that should be designated this — that we should aspire to be — it’s the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.”

Wondering what it all means? Read on for a brief rundown.

What is the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification?

It’s basically a way of recognizing that an academic institution has formally evaluated how it engages with its communities — local to global — and is meeting certain benchmarks that demonstrate a real commitment to partnering with those communities.

The classification is granted by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and decided on by a national review committee that’s led by the Swearer Center for Public Engagement at Brown University. An inaugural cohort of institutions earned the classification in 2006, with others following in 2008, 2010, 2015 and early 2020. The next cohort of successful applicants will be announced, fittingly, in 2025.

How does the Carnegie Foundation define engagement? What criteria does the university need to evaluate and fulfill?

According to the foundation, engagement means exchanging knowledge and resources with communities in ways that benefit both the communities and the institution itself. That engagement should inform the institution’s instruction and curriculum, its research and creative activity, and, naturally, its extension and outreach. Cultivating a sense of civic responsibility in students and working toward outcomes that emphasize the public good rank as especially important, overarching criteria.

A few specifics and examples, please.

An institution looking to earn the classification should be (among other things):

  • integrating community engagement into mission statements
  • recognizing that engagement via awards and celebrations
  • communicating its importance through marketing and branding
  • allocating money, physical space and fundraising efforts toward it
  • offering professional development for faculty and staff interested in it
  • weighing it when considering promotion and tenure
  • tracking, monitoring and regularly assessing it

“Many of these things we already do,” Bob Wilhelm, vice chancellor for research and economic development, said during a Q&A following Green’s address. “In some cases, we’ll have to be more organized; in other cases, we’ll need to make bigger investments.”

Who’s already in?

Counting the 199 that earned the designation earlier this year, 359 total institutions — including 10 Big Ten universities — currently hold it.

“I will tell you that this is a lofty goal, and success will require a concerted effort on the part of all of us,” Green said. “(But) it will enhance our commitment to the people of the great state of Nebraska.”