UNLV Achieves National Community Engagement Distinction

Jan. 31, 2020

UNLV Achieves National Community Engagement Distinction

Carnegie Foundation recognition comes just one year after UNLV earns “very high research activity” status.


LAS VEGAS – Jan. 31, 2020 – UNLV has reached another gold standard determined by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. 

Today, UNLV received the Carnegie Classification for Community Engagement, a distinction widely considered the highest standard of recognition for community engagement efforts at higher education institutions. 

This classification, which was achieved by just 119 institutions across the country in the 2020 cycle, highlights the university’s engagement practices that contribute to the public good while benefitting the university and its students.
Just one year ago, UNLV earned the R1 “very high research activity” status, a separate distinction also awarded by the Carnegie Foundation. UNLV joined an elite pool of only 130 universities with this classification in December 2018.

“Great universities are cornerstones of great communities, and at UNLV we recognize that strong partnerships are essential to help both our university and our region thrive,” said UNLV President Marta Meana. “Today’s announcement reflects our longstanding commitment to working together with our partners to solve challenges and create opportunities for our community. Taken together with our designation as an R1 research institution, this classification demonstrates our continued drive to be the very best that we can be.”

The Carnegie Foundation awarded 119 institutions with the first-time community engagement classification or reclassification this year. These institutions join 240 that earned the distinction in 2015, bringing the total number of campuses now classified to 359. UNLV was one of only 44 campuses that received the first-time community engagement classification during the 2020 cycle. 

The latest distinction comes as UNLV continues to advance its Top Tier Initiative, a campuswide strategic plan designed to guide UNLV on its path to become one of the nation’s top public universities in research, education, and community impact by 2025. Building strong community partnerships is a key part of the university’s plan.

The community engagement classification is also elective, meaning that it is based on voluntary participation by universities. It involves data collection and documentation of important aspects of institutional mission, identity and commitments, and requires substantial effort invested by participating institutions. It is awarded to select universities following a process of self-study conducted by each institution and documented in a lengthy application. The application is then assessed by a national review committee, which is led by the Swearer Center for Public Engagement at Brown University. 

In the letter announcing UNLV’s successful application, the Carnegie classification management team noted that UNLV “documented excellent alignment among campus mission, culture, leadership, resources, and practices that support dynamic and noteworthy community engagement.” They added that UNLV also responded to the classification framework with “descriptive, coherent, and compelling evidence of exemplary practices of institutionalized community engagement.”

UNLV’s Office of Community Engagement led the university-wide application process, which involved more than 70 UNLV faculty and staff members, 45 campus units, and 15 community partners. 

“This recognition affirms UNLV’s commitment to supporting our community and promoting collaboration and engagement between the university and its many partners,” said Sue DiBella, interim executive director of the UNLV Office of Community Engagement. “We couldn’t have achieved this distinction without the help of a dedicated group of individuals who are committed to our institutional engagement mission and the support of our community partners. We are very grateful to our community for its trust and support, and we look forward to fostering greater collaboration in the coming years.”

Collaboration with ReInvent Schools Las Vegas (RSLV) — a community schools initiative housed within elementary and middle school campuses in the urban core of the city — was one of 15 key community partnerships highlighted in UNLV’s application. The initiative works to develop systemic solutions to better support the academic and well-being outcomes of children living in poverty in the Las Vegas Valley, with UNLV serving as the research and evaluation arm.

“UNLV is providing top tier services in the areas of research, data analysis and grant writing,” said Lisa Morris Hibbler, chief community services officer for the City of Las Vegas. “UNLV has been a founding partner in the RSLV Initiative that is built upon community engagement, school performance assessments, and innovative education support strategies to ensure our youngest and most challenged citizens receive an empowering 21st century education.”

As a result of the collaborative effort, UNLV was awarded a $2.5 million Full Service Community Schools Grant, Hibbler added, which will enable RSLV to expand services at school sites and increase educational opportunities for students.

The Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada is another vital community partner highlighted in UNLV’s application. UNLV’s Boyd School of Law has partnered with the center for more than 20 years to provide free legal education classes to members of the community who do not have access to justice. 

"I remember early talk about creating Nevada's first publicly funded law school and thinking what an incredible resource such an institution would be for legal aid programs and our clients,” said Barbara Buckley, former Nevada legislator and current executive director for the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada. “In 1998 we began an important partnership where all law students teach free legal information classes in a variety of areas of law. Since the law school’s inception, we have worked in tandem to offer vital legal support to those who need it most.”

Buckley added that nearly 2,500 Boyd graduates to date have served over 70,000 members of the community, and that 30 percent of the Legal Aid Center’s staff are Boyd graduates.

Overall, in 2019, UNLV was engaged in more than 1,000 new and ongoing community partnership projects involving nearly 500 partners spanning state, city, and county agencies, businesses, schools, and non-profit organizations. 

The Carnegie Community Engagement Classification is valid until 2026, at which time UNLV will need to seek reclassification to retain its status. When universities re-apply for the 2026 cycle, they will be asked to provide evidence of how community engagement has become deeper, more pervasive, better integrated, and sustained on their campuses. 

Both UNLV and the University of Nevada, Reno earned the community engagement classification during the 2020 cycle. They also share the R1 “very high research activity” status.

“This recognition highlights our universities’ commitment to creating and building upon reciprocal connections with partners locally, nationally, and internationally,” said Thom Reilly, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education. “Making connections with our communities is a priority for the state’s higher education institutions so that we can better meet the needs of Nevada. I’m proud of our students, faculty, and administrators, whose work is reflected in this prestigious honor.”