The Reasons to Change

 

The past few years, even decades, have proven exceptional at Mount Union. However, if there is one thing in today’s world that is certain, it’s that times are changing, perhaps more rapidly than any could have imagined. 

The Changing Face of Higher Education

There is no doubt that our country as a whole is faced with a number of challenges these days from which higher education is certainly not immune. Demographic changes and economic decline call for efficiency and forward thinking among colleges and universities. Due to such a proactive approach and history of strength, Mount Union is faring better than many of its competitors. However, business as usual will not be an option at Mount Union.

Currently, we are in the throes of a planned-for demographic decline in the number of high school graduates in our primary market. Very simply, now and even more so in the years to come, high school graduation rates in the Midwest will continue to decline due to lower birth rates.

In addition, we remain in a period of economic instability both nationally and globally.  One result of this recession is the greater than 60 percent reduction in state financial support for students attending private colleges like Mount Union.  Another is an unemployment rate in our state of nearly 12 percent that dramatically impacts families’ abilities to afford higher education. 

A recent report issued by Chronicle Research Services detailing the student of 2020 has revealed data that is informative, relevant and at times a bit shocking. Increasingly in the years to come, the demand for a traditional four-year college experience will continue to wane in light of the proliferation of for-profit colleges, night and weekend class opportunities, online offerings and accelerated programs.

The report further indicates that the student of 2020 will be vastly different from the student of years past or even today. It is predicted that in the next 10 to 15 years minority students will outnumber Caucasian students on college campuses for the first time. Also, the average age of students will continue to trend higher as the need for additional credentials to advance or change careers rises.

Mount Union currently generates over 80 percent of its operating revenue from tuition dollars.  Thus, the recruitment of students must be our top priority in ensuring our financial future.  What this report makes clear is that Mount Union and other similar institutions are going to be increasingly called upon to draw students beyond their traditional recruitment borders while remaining flexible in their offerings to facilitate the necessary adjustments required of students’ ever-changing demands.

Maintaining Relevance in the Market

So, how can Mount Union continue to remain relevant in the eyes of prospective students?  Enhancing academic offerings, growing the campus and developing the area that surrounds it, providing opportunities for students to develop and differentiating the institution from its competitors will be crucial.  In addition, the Board of Trustees has charged the administration with researching the potential benefits of making a label change from “college” to “university.” 

Research began last year with the hiring of an outside higher education marketing firm to gather critical information from prospective students. This research spurred further efforts including on-campus focus groups.  Mount Union has partnered with research firm Eduventures to gather further valuable insight from alumni and parents, and the survey that follows is the result of that partnership. 

The research to date has identified a number of possible reasons to consider a change to university.  Several of the reasons are as follows:

External research conducted with prospective students indicated that high school students overwhelming correlated “university” with variety of majors, more opportunities for extracurricular involvement, a better quality of educational experience, prestige and more qualified graduates.

Seventy-three percent of high school students are indifferent to titles of “college” and “university,” but 25 percent find a “university” to be more appealing. 

  • “University” may be better aligned with the image we want to portray.

All 24 two-year community and technical institutions in the state of Ohio hold the distinction of “college” as do many for-profit institutions.  On the other end of the spectrum, a handful of nationally-regarded liberal arts colleges also use the label “college.” If the trend we are currently seeing in higher education continues and other institutions similar to Mount Union make a name change to university, those labeled “college” may be increasingly associated with one of these two categories.  In addition, of our top 10 competitors, only one (Baldwin-Wallace at #5) uses the label “college.”

  • Internationally, “university” is synonymous with higher education.

In many cultures, the word “college” is equated with high school or less prestigious institutions such as vocational or trade schools.  International students may not consider Mount Union as an option because of the label.

  • “University” is better reflective of our current academic and organizational structure.

Mount Union has grown physically, programmatically and academically.  Enrollment has doubled in the last 30 years and more than 50 percent of graduates earn degrees in non-liberal arts majors.  In the past few years, Mount Union has added a graduate program and committed to the addition of two engineering programs.  In addition, the faculty is now organized into divisions.

The Board of Trustees will balance these reasons for changing the label to “university” with the following reasons for maintaining the status quo of being a college.  Specifically, these include the following:

  • The current label of the College has endured since 1858 and it has worked for the past 150 years.
  • Alumni have an affiliation to Mount Union, and changing the label to “university” may impact their loyalties.
  • Many other institutions have or are making this change, and remaining a “college” may make Mount Union distinctive and dispel the appearance of following the pack.
  • Mount Union should hold off on making a label change until it has more graduate programs.
  • Money can better be spent in other areas during this difficult economy than on a label change.

Looking Toward the Future

As Mount Union looks to the future, it will be imperative to plan for success well into the next decade and beyond.  Weighing the benefits of a label change to “university” and carefully balancing them with the mission of Mount Union as well as the perceptions of the institution’s very loyal and dedicated alumni will be important in the weeks and months that follow.  What is essential is that, regardless of the label, Mount Union will still be known for its personal attention and strong student/faculty interaction.  The name "Mount Union" will continue to be how we are known.

Those wishing to learn more about the topics presented above are invited to view President Richard F. Giese’s 2009 State of the College Address.

Please contact Gina Bannevich, director of marketing at Mount Union, with any questions. She can be reached at (800) 992-6682, ext. 6094, (330) 823-6094 or bannevgm@mountunion.edu.

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