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UNT now a Tier One research institution

Profile image for By Jenna Duncan
By Jenna Duncan

The University of North Texas is now classified as one of the “highest research” universities in the country, according to the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.

Status as a Tier One institution is a coveted and elusive label that universities can use to distinguish themselves as among the best in the country. For some, Carnegie’s Tier One research classification is the holy grail. For others, the goal is being in the top 100 of U.S. News & World Report’s annual list of top universities.

UNT President Neal Smatresk has said the highest classification from Carnegie is the top tier the university should strive for, and focused much of his State of the University address in September on how the school could reach it. Now that they have, Smatresk says they plan to implement his plans to grow key factors for the classification and continue to increase research.

“We’re very excited here, and I think this represents a really big step in the right direction for our emergence in international prominence,” he said. “I think we’ll stay the course. We’re on a trajectory that’s very ambitious. I don’t think we’re going to back away from that — we’re going to continue accelerating toward our goal.”

The classifications, released every five years, look at how much money schools spend on research, the number of non-faculty researchers with doctorates and the amount and distribution of doctoral degrees the school awards.

This year’s classifications looked at data from 2013 to 2014, and placed 115 institutions in the “highest research” category.

This year, the Carnegie system looked at all doctoral degrees the schools awarded, not just in science and engineering fields.

Tom McCoy, UNT vice president for research and economic development, said he thinks this ended up helping the university in the rankings because it awards many doctoral degrees in other fields such as music, education and social sciences.

“The university focusing on increasing quality and quantity of doctoral students certainly helped bring this about,” he said, noting the university graduated 270 doctoral candidates in the 2013-14 academic year.

It’s impossible to know precisely why Carnegie elevated UNT to Tier One status because the exact formula for the classifications is secret. This keeps universities from figuring out how to manipulate the rankings, McCoy said.

Previously, Smatresk has mentioned needing to boost research funding to reach this classification.

According to 2014 data from the National Science Foundation, of the 115 schools ranked in the highest research classification, UNT is second to last in research and development expenditures with $44.2 million in 2014.

Victor Borden, the Carnegie Classification project director, said the system isn’t meant to rank schools as better than others, and many colleges traditionally thought of as “elite” aren’t on the list.

“I know there is a kind of stake, or image, or idea, that this sort of global archetypes of being one of the world-class universities of sorts — it’s a point of pride and a point of planning, and that’s OK,” Borden said. “There are some who strive to be liberal arts colleges, or those who focus on open access. It’s not to say that being ‘highest’ is better than being in the middle or high category.”

UNT is one of four Texas universities newly added to the Tier One group based on the Carnegie Classification. Texas Tech University, the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of Texas at Dallas now appear on the list alongside UNT. The University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University, the University of Houston and Rice University achieved Tier One status years ago.

Smatresk said that Texas now having eight universities in this classification should be a point of pride for those outside of academia.

“It’s important because Tier One institutions are not just recognized on a national level, but they drive the best quality students, the best and brightest faculty, and it’s a signal in a way that these institutions are producing the leadership that’s needed by a state and a region to enjoy prosperity,” he said. “And three in D-FW is a reflection of how far we’ve come to establish that higher education is a critical component of the state’s growth and success.”


JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan