In today's rapidly evolving world, the role of colleges and universities extends beyond the traditional boundaries of teaching and research. They are increasingly recognizing the importance of community engagement in fostering civic responsibility, addressing societal challenges, and enriching the educational experience for students. One of the most prominent frameworks for assessing and promoting community engagement in higher education is the Carnegie Classification for Community Engagement. Miami Dade College (MDC), located in Miami, Florida and one of the nation’s largest Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) received the classification in 2015 and is one of a handful of community colleges across the nation to hold the designation.
But why is applying for this Carnegie Classification important for HSIs? According to Josh Young, Director of Miami Dade College’s Institute for Civic Engagement and Democracy, “Earning the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification is the gold standard in higher education for civic engagement and something that everyone associated with MDC should be very proud of.” Young believes the college’s community engagement work is a standout, contributing to students' success. Through his work at the Institute, he has evidence that community and civic engagement helps students to persist in college, graduate, prepares them for the workforce, and encourages students to be “more informed, engaged, compassionate community members and changemakers.”
When applying for the Carnegie Classification for Community Engagement, MDC emphasized the large numbers of faculty involved with community engagement, including their having formal leadership roles in deepening and expanding community engagement across the curriculum.
Young shared, “We emphasized how Miami Dade College had developed infrastructure to support community engagement, including setting up offices with staff on each campus to support the work” and “included details about the myriad of reciprocal community-campus partnerships we developed and maintain, including our community service Federal Work-Study program.”
Young would like to see more Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), and HSIs in particular, applying for the Carnegie Classification for Community Engagement. Students at MSIs, who are often from low-income homes, which requires them to work, often face a civic empowerment gap. They have fewer opportunities to participate in organized community and civic engagement activities due to family and financial commitments. As Young explained, “High quality, institution-wide, curricular and co-curricular community engagement opportunities reduce this empowerment gap and prepare our students to ensure their voices are heard and that they fully participate in civic and democratic life to build a better world for themselves and their families.”
The process of applying for the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification allows an institution the opportunity to do a deep self-assessment of their engagement efforts and provides a road map to increase the power of community engagement at their institution. As Young stated, “For any institution that is serious about building community engagement in a thoughtful, intentional, and impactful manner, applying for the community engagement classification is [essential].”
The work of Miami Dade College around community engagement offers several strategies for HSIs, and other MSIs. These include:
- Commit to intentional engagement. HSIs benefit from establishing structured programs and initiatives that foster community engagement at all levels of the institution, integrating the theme in both curricula and extracurricular activities.
- Build infrastructure. HSIs should dedicate offices and staff to their community engagement efforts, centering community engagement in the institution’s priorities.
- Prioritize reciprocal partnerships. When HSIs form and maintain strong reciprocal community partnerships, they can create meaningful engagement for both the college and the community.
- Encourage regular assessment. Community engagement efforts that have the largest and longest impact are those that are continuously assessed. It’s vital that HSIs stay committed to their engagement efforts to better serve students.
For any college or university serious about deliberate, purposeful community engagement, applying for the Carnegie Classification becomes a crucial step. It serves as a catalyst for reflection, growth, and a tangible commitment to shaping a more engaged, empowered student body. In addition, community engagement as a High Impact Practice contributes to the retention and graduation rates of students, especially Latinx, and any HSI who embraces the serving part of their designation will find it a useful and meaningful tool for institutional transformation and continuous improvement.
Dr. Marybeth Gasman is the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Endowed Chair in Education and the Associate Dean of Research in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University, where she also leads the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute for Leadership, Equity & Justice and the Rutgers Center for Minority Serving Institutions.
Dr. Marisol Morales is the Executive Director of the Carnegie Elective Classifications at the American Council on Education.