The dual-mission model is not for every institution, and it is not without its challenges, but it has also kept tuition fees low, making higher education accessible for all. Is the growing movement of colleges and universities exploring new and blended models of higher education a good sign? Read more about its impact here.
College rankings are easy to pick on. And they get their fair share of criticism for rewarding prestige and wealth and unfairly shaping many families’ perceptions that academic success beyond high school really is about the “name on the sweatshirt.”
Less understood or well known is the half-century-old Carnegie Classification System, which was originally published in the early 1970s. While the Carnegie Classification is not a ranking of colleges and universities, the classifications identify similarities and differences among institutions. Originally conceived to assist higher education researchers to classify groups of similar institutions for research purposes, some argue that the classifications oftentimes place thresholds between institutions that ultimately do inform rankings and grant eligibility.
For institutions with a dual mission — that is, colleges or universities that offer a mix of certificate and two-year programs as well as four-year degrees — there is no single category in the Carnegie system that reflects their unique and emerging position. A dual-mission institution intentionally merges a community or technical college and a four-year university under one roof — or a dual-mission institution could also be a community college that offers four-year degrees.
The dual-mission classification is growing in importance given the momentum in higher education toward the creation of “in-house” academic pathways for students, oftentimes aligned with local workforce and labor-market needs.
To better understand the emerging dual mission institution and the opportunity to reimagine the Carnegie Classification System, I turned to Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser, president & CEO of Colorado Mountain College, a dual-mission institution located in the Rocky Mountains.
Alison Griffin: Would you describe the origins and evolution of the “dual mission” movement and the qualities of a dual mission institution?
Carrie Hauser: While there are institutions across the country that operate in a dual-mission context, the state of Utah deserves credit for launching and formalizing “dual mission” as a descriptive and unique category of institutions. Utah Valley University (2018), Weber State University (2019), and Dixie State University (2020) hosted consecutive national Dual-Mission Summits in close collaboration with and endorsement by the Utah Department of Higher Education and state legislative leaders. [Colorado Mountain College will host the summit in November 2021.] These conferences have brought attention to the role and relevance of dual-mission institutions, generating momentum to formalize the network beyond one annual event.
Though variations exist, dual-mission institutions operate across traditional Carnegie classifications and offer a blend of degrees and certificates delivered by historically defined and segmented “two-year” and “four-year” colleges. In doing so, dual-mission institutions are generally open access and rural and/or regionally focused (reflecting the heritage of many community colleges). And, they often operate similarly to comprehensive regional teaching colleges and universities.
Importantly, by offering a robust mix of programs, dual-mission colleges can provide affordable access to more students using the same equipment, facilities, and, in some cases, faculty. Take, for example, health sciences. At traditional universities, health science courses may be limited to upper-division or graduate-level nursing courses only. At dual-mission institutions, the same facilities and equipment can be used to teach applied certificate-level courses in, say, phlebotomy or emergency medical technician, associate-level nursing courses or bachelor’s- and master’s-level courses to practicing nurses. Thus, dual-mission colleges can achieve economies of scale that simply aren’t feasible at most single-mission institutions.
Additionally, dual-mission colleges facilitate greater access and success, as students can opt into shorter programs and “stack” credentials into longer ones. Dual-mission institutions allow students to have some control over their education and choose a program that best fits their academic and professional interests without having to choose a single pathway or transfer among multiple institutions.
Griffin: How many dual-mission colleges are there in the United States? Is there a region in the US where dual-mission institutions are more popular or growing faster than other regions?
Hauser: Counts are the best estimates at this time, as most states do not yet recognize dual missions as a formal designation. However, organizers of recent dual-mission summits have identified nearly 400 colleges and universities (both public and private) operating as dual-mission institutions in the United States. Efforts are underway to gather information and data to more accurately report and formalize the network.
Geographically speaking, the mountain west and southeast are dual-mission hot spots. States such as Utah, Florida, and Georgia embraced the dual-mission concept early on and have led the way for many others. And, there are private institutions like Columbia College that have offered two- and four-year programs for decades.
Importantly, considering the conversations underway nationally concerning the consolidation of colleges and systems, we may see more and more institutions reorganized into dual-mission colleges as the fiscal impact of the pandemic is fully realized over the coming years. For all but the most selective and research-intensive universities, operating single-mission institutions may not be practical as higher education faces a prolonged contraction in student enrollments and intense competition for limited public resources.
Griffin: Given dual-mission colleges are not reflected in the current Carnegie Classification System, what is the detriment to these institutions by not having an assigned classification?
Hauser: The chief difficulty with this circumstance is the lack of familiarity among accrediting and authorizing agencies, especially those at the state level. While the U.S. Department of Education has been proactively adaptive about the ways in which it defines colleges of various types, other systems move more slowly. The result can be a lack of alignment regarding external agencies whose job it is to evaluate academic outcomes and operating performance.
Also, progress can be sluggish in state legislatures and among state higher-education agencies. Over the past four or five decades, many laws and rules governing higher education systems have become calcified and slow to adapt. It’s probably a good thing that legislatures are naturally cautious of change, but inaction slows adaptation. While change can be scary for state-level policymakers far removed from day-to-day interactions with students and employers, those with a greater willingness to reimagine postsecondary systems and structures will likely enable greater access and improved performance in colleges, as they will not try to “fit” operations into outdated definitions and policies designed before the robust availability and use of technology.
I’m hopeful that, by becoming open to new, dynamic ways to envision colleges, accreditors, authorizers and state-level policymakers will move away from requiring colleges to choose between “traditional” two-year or four-year missions, but rather blend the best of both to achieve long-term operating efficiencies, instructional relevance and student success.
Griffin: What is unique about Colorado Mountain College as a dual-mission college? Can you give me an example of an academic program that would meet the dual-mission classification?
Hauser: Like most open-access and/or regional colleges in the U.S., Colorado Mountain College (CMC) was created during the post-WWII higher-education boom of the 1960s. CMC was originally established as a rural, multi-campus junior college, offering 100- and 200-level courses in applied and transfer programs. Today, CMC operates 11 campuses across a service area the size of Maryland by way of a consolidated system, with centralized administrative operations and on-campus instruction and student services highly adapted to the unique needs of mountain resort towns sprinkled across Colorado’s high country.
Importantly, CMC is the only college or university operating in these communities. So, if we don’t offer a particular program or service, it simply isn’t available to local residents. In 2010, CMC’s mission evolved to include bachelor’s degrees. This change unleashed a cascade of changes, not the least of which is the increased production of bachelor’s degrees aligned with the evolving needs of local communities, regional employers, and with Colorado’s economy more broadly.
CMC is funded largely (approximately 70%) by local tax revenues, a modest amount (approximately 10%) of state funding, and student tuition (approximately 20%). Our robust local funding base allows the college to operate multiple campuses and penetrate into smaller, rural markets in ways impossible for most institutions. This type of funding also creates a level of operational independence for CMC to build new programs, stay laser-focused on localized relevance and partnerships, meet regional workforce demands, and remain highly accessible and affordable for students.
Today, CMC has evolved to meet the educational needs of a vast geographic service area, including operating the largest concurrent enrollment program in all of rural Colorado; delivering English as a second language programming to thousands of workers in our agricultural and hospitality industries; providing applied certificates or associate degrees in health care, information technology, welding and construction trades, education, outdoor recreation, avalanche science and culinary arts and offering bachelor’s-level programs that meet employer needs such as nursing, teacher education, business and sustainability. These needs are important to many businesses in our region, nearly all of which have ties to natural resources and the environment. Soon, CMC expects to become designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution and will add academic programs in human services.
Examples of “dual-mission” academic programs at CMC abound. In education, students can begin their academic careers in early childhood certificates, then transition to bachelor’s degrees with licensure. Adults with bachelor’s degrees in hand can return to CMC for a specialized certificate or a “post-bachelor’s” licensure program. Similarly, in nursing, students can begin in a nurse aide program, then move into an Associate of Applied Science in nursing (RN), then, ultimately, top it off with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). For those with an RN in hand, these students can simply join a bachelor’s cohort, nearly all of the curriculum for which is online or adapted for remote instruction. Soon, we will launch specialized certificates in addiction and crisis counseling — a critical need in resort communities. Graduates from this program can then apply their credits to an Associate of Arts and/or a Bachelor of Arts in human services. Other examples include programs in photography and graphic design, culinary arts and hospitality, outdoor recreation leadership, accounting, and business management.
Griffin: How does a learner finance a credential — or credentials — from a dual-mission institution with the current federal financial aid rules? Do any of the financial aid programs need to be amended to support learners who may ultimately earn three credentials from a single institution?
Hauser: Financing a certificate or degree from a dual-mission institution isn’t any different than for those at traditionally organized colleges and universities. However, there are several changes in student financial aid systems that could better support learners at dual-mission institutions.
The first change would be to allow all financial aid programs to be applied on an indefinite term-to-term basis rather than a traditional academic year. Allowing students to receive full financial support, irrespective of academic term or time of year supports the reality that many students at dual-mission institutions are non-traditional aged and attend classes in different patterns term to term.
Financial aid systems were built in the 1960s and ‘70s and haven’t changed a whole lot since. For 18-year-old full-time students at residential liberal arts colleges, traditional financial aid systems work well and exactly as intended. These systems are currently being retrofitted for part-time, year-round working adults who are pursuing multiple credentials at the same time.
Second, eliminating the requirement to be “degree-seeking” in order to qualify for financial aid would help students at dual-mission institutions, especially those enrolled in short-term certificate programs or those taking one course at a time in multiple programs.
Finally, allowing students who earned bachelor’s degrees to automatically receive full financial aid for certificates or “add-on” licenses, such as those in teacher education, would provide needed resources for individuals whose first degrees did not allow the individual to achieve their personal or professional goals.
Griffin: Why should the Carnegie Classification System (or a new system entirely) include dual-mission institutions? What advice do you have for other higher education leaders who seek to join in the effort to elevate attention on dual-mission institutions?
Hauser: Arguably, the concept of categorizing institutions based on certain inputs needs to be reconsidered, and this certainly includes the Carnegie Classification System. Once upon a time, long before the World Wide Web and the U.S. News and World Report rankings, a time when the Dewey Decimal System and card catalogs were still in active use in libraries across the nation, it was important to organize colleges in an orderly manner. During this pre-internet period, the expansion of colleges and universities was rapid. Consequently, organizing institutions based on certain attributes was important to government and college officials alike.
Today, we all face a long and sustained contraction in higher education. Colleges are merging, consolidating, and, consequently, redefining their missions and delivery methods. Also, we have many more tools to better evaluate colleges based not on enrollments or federal research grants but rather on instructional quality, programmatic diversity, enrollment types, and student outcomes. If I had a magic wand, we would no longer fit institutions into predetermined categories, but allow them to select the criteria that most accurately describe their programs, purpose, and alignment with local, regional, and state needs. The result might not be orderly, concise, or elegant, but it would be far more accurate and would encourage innovation. It would also eliminate natural inclinations to rank order institutions based on perceived prestige, endowments, facilities, and other resources and force the recalibration of pricing to be more customer- (student-) and market-driven.
With regard to advising higher education leaders to elevate dual-mission institutions, my counsel is simple: embrace the change. Speculating that the vast majority of college presidents and executive directors in state education agencies attended college in the pre-internet era and can remember the first time they waited patiently for their favorite music video on MTV, most of us viewed higher education through the lens of a hierarchy heavily soaked in historical privilege, social prestige, and exclusivity (not inclusivity). Fast forward to 2021 and we are now facing the single biggest shake-up in the history of higher education…ever. Over the coming years, colleges will adapt to survive, reimagining their purposes and missions while trying to re-establish their relevance in a new landscape.
Similarly, ever-larger numbers of students are wary of social structures that arbitrarily funnel people into restrictive categories and predetermined outcomes. These trends intersect in ways that require new models, new structures, and new methods. So, with this as a backdrop, I would encourage leaders to consider the once-in-a-generation disruption a global pandemic handed us as a wake-up call to retire outdated models.
It is time to support colleges that rethink their approaches, reestablish relevance to learners and employers, and for us all to avoid viewing structural change as a threat. As the late, great poet Maya Angelou once said, “Stepping onto a brand-new path is difficult, but not more difficult than remaining in a situation.” What wise and timely advice.