Mount Union Board of Trustees Unanimously Votes to Make Change to "University"

January 22, 2010

After careful review of data gathered through numerous research efforts and thoughtful consideration and discussion, the Mount Union College Board of Trustees has voted unanimously to change the designation of the institution from “college” to “university.”

In the coming months, the administration will gather research and perceptions about how the “university” label should be incorporated with the Mount Union name.  The institution also will embark on a rebranding effort that will be simultaneously launched with the designation change, further propelling the visibility and reputation of the institution.  Both initiatives will be officially implemented effective August 1, 2010.

“Our administrative team has done a great deal of research about current trends and perceptions, and our alumni, donors, faculty, staff and current students have played a critical role in this process,” said Lee Ann (Johnston ’83) Thorn, chair of the Board of Trustees.  “Mount Union has progressed as an institution, growing enrollment, expanding academic offerings and enhancing the physical campus.  Today, the designation of ‘university’ more accurately reflects all that Mount Union has become and will continue to be in the future.”

Over the past two decades, Mount Union has seen phenomenal growth.  Enrollment has nearly doubled since the 1990s, and this fall, the institution announced a record full-time enrollment of 2,148 students.

In addition, innovative academic programs have been introduced.  Most recently, the institution announced the approval of two new majors in civil and mechanical engineering that will begin in the fall of 2010.  Mount Union also embarked on its first graduate program in nearly a century – physician assistant studies – and the program launched this May with an inaugural class of 19 students. 

As a result of this growth, the institution is now organized academically into divisions, and the physical campus has grown as well.  This past weekend alone, two new facilities were dedicated – the Gartner Welcome Center and the McPherson Academic and Athletic Complex. 

“All of these developments have propelled the institution to one that is now more reflective of a ‘university’ than a ‘college,’” said Thorn.

The decision to change the designation from “college” to “university” is one that is based on a strong rationale.  Throughout the research process, a number of significant themes emerged, and findings indicate that such a change will be beneficial to Mount Union and its future. 

Among these findings are the changing definitions of the words “college” and “university.”  While “university” was once a designation only for those institutions that offered a broader curriculum including a number of graduate programs, increasingly, smaller, private institutions have adopted the label.  In fact, a study in The Review of Higher Education indicates that nearly 150 public and private four-year colleges have changed to “university” since 1990.  In addition, a review of Mount Union’s top 10 competitors revealed that only one uses the designation of “college.” 

“Today’s students view a ‘university’ as an institution that offers increased opportunity and variety, as well as a higher level of prestige, a broader academic curriculum and better-qualified graduates,” said Dr. Richard F. Giese, president of Mount Union.  “In addition, internationally, the word ‘university’ is synonymous with higher education and ‘college’ is equated with high schools or technical institutions.  We feel the designation of ‘university’ best describes who we are and more effectively communicates to our constituents all that we have to offer.”

This weekend’s decision will bring change in terms of the institution’s designation, but Mount Union’s fundamental educational philosophy will remain the same.  The institution will continue to focus on attracting quality students and faculty, providing a sense of community and offering a well-rounded education combined with the practical experience critical to career success. 

“One goal of this effort is to position Mount Union to be more competitive in the marketplace of higher education,” said Amy Tomko ’81, vice president for enrollment services.  “We have been and will continually be faced with a number of challenges including changing demographics, a turbulent economy and a proliferation of higher education options.”

By taking a proactive approach and making this change from a position of strength, Mount Union will be better poised to meet these challenges head on and thrive for years to come.

As Mount Union studied the potential benefits of such a designation change, it enlisted the services of both Stamats and Eduventures, external market research firms that specialize in higher education research.  Information was gathered from both college-bound students and alumni through these efforts and supplemented with data collected through focus and discussion groups with current students, faculty, staff and donors.

While the campus will continue to operate as Mount Union College for the next 10 months, a task force will begin work to manage the transition and launch the rebranding effort.  During the process, the institution will offer continual updates to its various constituent groups.

“As members of the Mount Union community, our hearts are connected to the place we fondly refer to as ‘Dear Old MUC,’ yet our minds need to be guided by the vision of a Mount Union that is relevant, proactive, successful and forward thinking,” added Giese.  “It is possible to forge ahead while remaining true to the past.  Very simply, Mount Union is all about the personal approach, and that essence will never change."

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