Carnegie Foundation Recognizes WCU for Community Engagement

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has recognized Western Carolina University’s emphasis on community engagement and its link to engaged teaching, research and service by selecting the university for its “community engagement classification.”

Announcement of WCU’s new status came Thursday, Dec. 18, from the Carnegie Foundation as part of an extensive restructuring of its classification of institutions of higher education. Unlike other classifications that rely on national data, the latest classification is elective – institutions elect to participate by submitting required documentation describing the nature and extent of their engagement with the community.

“We hope that by acknowledging the commitment and accomplishment of these engaged institutions, the foundation will encourage other colleges and universities to move in this direction,” said Carnegie President Anthony S. Bryk. “Doing so brings benefits to the community and to the institution.”

Western Carolina was selected in the categories of curricular engagement, and outreach and partnerships, which recognize the university for substantial commitments in three key areas – teaching, learning and scholarship; application and provision of institutional resources for community use; and collaboration with community.

The new classification endorses WCU’s recent institutional focus on engaged learning – the integration of activities in and out of the classroom by students who are actively involved in and responsible for their own learning, and guided by professors and support staff who serve as facilitators or coaches for learning.

Engaged learning is a critical part of the university’s Quality Enhancement Plan (or QEP), a major component of the process of obtaining reaccreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. It also is an ingredient of WCU’s service learning program, which enhances students’ academic development while fostering social and civic responsibility.

“This is a greatly prized external recognition for our university by a highly respected leader in higher education,” said WCU Provost Kyle Carter. “The designation demonstrates to the nation that WCU’s students and faculty have taken their educational experience beyond the campus to promote a greater good in the community and region in which WCU resides.”

Although Carnegie researchers said that few institutions nationally are addressing the issue of faculty reward for their roles in community engagement activities, that is not the case at WCU, said Carol Burton, the university’s assistant vice chancellor for undergraduate studies. Western Carolina last fall adopted a new policy for tenure, promotion and reappointment that makes it possible for the university to reward faculty members who apply their scholarly activities to help solve problems beyond the boundaries of campus.

“Receiving the Carnegie classification as a community-engaged university provides independent, outside validation of what we value internally. This is evidence that we practice what we preach,” Burton said. “We are pleased that the foundation recognized our efforts in all three areas of curricular engagement, outreach and partnerships. We also are proud that we are at the forefront of a movement to reward faculty members for their role in helping the larger community.”

The Carnegie Foundation, through the work of the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, developed the first typology of American colleges and universities in 1970 as a research tool to describe and represent the diversity of U.S. higher education. Its classification of higher education institutions continues to be used for a wide range of purposes by academic researchers, institutional personnel, policymakers and others.

Under the Carnegie classification system, WCU is categorized as “a larger master’s degree granting institution,” in addition to the newly added elective “community engagement” category.

For more information about engaged learning at Western Carolina, visit the Web site