Top Ten Reasons to Change


Top Ten Reasons to Change to a University

From its earliest beginnings as a school in an old Carding Mill to the modern campus of today, Mount Union has continually evolved. Founded in 1846, the institution soon became known by the name “A Select School” and was reflective of other small, struggling academies of the day.  Shortly thereafter, the school changed its name to Mount Union Seminary and again to Mount Union Seminary and Normal School, reflecting the addition of a teacher education program. It wasn’t until 1858 that the institution came to be known as Mount Union College.

A spirit of independence and a willingness to innovate are characteristics that have weaved the very fabric of Mount Union’s history.  Founder Orville Nelson Hartshorn often referred to Mount Union as a “cosmic institution for the people.”  His forward thinking and desire to innovate laid a strong foundation for Mount Union’s continued evolution. 

Throughout the years, much success has been achieved.  Growth in enrollment, financial strength and alumni participation, as well as the physical campus as a whole, have been phenomenal.  However, we have faced challenges along the way – challenges that have forced the institution to be flexible and adapt in changing times. 

We are now at a crossroads in higher education.  The economy, changing demographics and continual technological advancements are forcing us to transform our ways.  Our ability to adapt and remain flexible in our quest to meet the demands of future students will be critical to our success down the road.   This paradigm shift demands that we continually reposition ourselves in order to remain competitive.

Should we change from a college to a university label, it may help to ensure that we are not identified as something less than we will need to be in the future.  After considerable research, including data collection from previously published sources, conversations with representatives of institutions that have made or are investigating making a name change and focus groups with our internal constituents, we have identified a number of reasons that would support such a change.  They are listed below.

At a time during which the economy is affecting everyone, Mount Union has been fortunate to have a history of strength, providing us with the resources and the energy to be proactive for the future.  Because of our strategic efforts, we are faring better than many of our peer institutions. However, we must continue to move the College forward to remain viable in the years to come. The demands of tomorrow require us to be innovative today, but we can continue to evolve while staying true to our mission.  In the past, the efforts of many have propelled Mount Union into the future while staying fundamentally true to the educational foundation forged by Hartshorn. Once again, we have the opportunity to work together to set a course for the future.

1. Definitions of “college” and “university” have changed in our society.

  • In the past decades, the meanings associated with “university” and “college” have changed. 
  • Increasingly, “college” is the general term for higher education but “university” is where one goes to earn the degree.
  • Students looking to obtain a higher education degree will increasingly perceive “college” as a division of a university, a two-year technical school or a proprietary institution. 
  • “University,” on the other hand, will indicate varieties in educational experiences and opportunities.
  • “University” is no longer necessarily equated with an institution that offers numerous graduate  programs.  In fact, a number of universities, including Denison University and Wittenberg University, offer only baccalaureate degrees.

2. A university is now considered to be more academically rigorous than a college.

  • Research indicates that prospective students today equate the word “university” with more opportunity and variety in academic programming.
  • A university is typically considered to have a greater emphasis on research, both on behalf of faculty members and students who work individually and through combined efforts, thus indicating to prospective students that the intellectual atmosphere is more intense than at a college.  Our SCHOLAR Day is a recent example of faculty and students working hand in hand on research endeavors.
  • According to U.S. News and World Report rankings for 2009, 17 of the top 20 of the World’s Best Colleges and Universities use the designation “university.”
  • The academic reputation associated with the term “university” will enhance the professional advancement of our future alumni in our global society.

3. Internationally, university is synonymous with higher education and college is not.

  • Internationally, the word “college” is equated with high school. 
  • International students may not consider Mount Union as an option because of name. This is already a problem for us.
  • Mount Union’s global appeal can be enhanced through the establishment of international partnerships, internship opportunities and faculty exchange programs, the creation of which can be better facilitated by a name change to university.

4. Today, Mount Union’s academic and organizational structure is more reflective of a university than a college.

  • Mount Union has grown physically, programmatically and academically. 
    • Enrollment has doubled in the last 30 years.
    • More than 50 percent of our graduates major in non-liberal arts areas.
    • Two engineering programs are being added.
    • Graduate degrees are now offered.
    • Our faculty is now organized into divisions.

5. If Mount Union remains a “college,” we may be inadvertently creating a image we do not want.

  • If the trend we are currently seeing in higher education continues and other institutions similar to Mount Union make a name change to university, it is predicted that those who continue to remain with the title of “college” will be associated with one of two groups. 
    • According to the Ohio Board of Regents, all 24 two-year institutions in the state of Ohio hold the distinction of “college,” including Tri-County Community College, Stark State College, Lorain Community College, Lakeland Community College, Jefferson Community College and Hocking College.  In addition, many proprietary institutions throughout the country are colleges - Brown Mackie College, Bryant and Stratton College, Remington College, Kaplan College, Gibbs College and Everest College.
    • A handful of national liberal arts colleges, such as Oberlin, Kenyon, Grinnell, Williams and Swarthmore, have the distinction of “college.”
  • Therefore, if we were to remain a college, in the years to come we may be increasingly placed in one of these two categories, neither of which accurately describes us.

6. Shifting demographics will require us, increasingly in the years to come, to recruit beyond our current reach.

  • We will always maintain our commitment to educating the traditional residential student, however, by positioning the institution as a university, we will be more competitive in our non-traditional markets and remain sustainable in the years to come.
    • A decline in birthrates in our traditional geographic markets will demand that we recruit outside those borders.
    • An increase in diverse populations will increasingly require us to change the way we recruit students.
    • Demand for non-traditional delivery systems and graduate programs for those outside our traditional age range will call for our flexibility.

7. Universities are perceived to be better investments at lower costs.

  • National liberal arts colleges surrounding Mount Union (those with no applied majors, such as education, business, engineering, sport business) are charging $45,000+ per year.
  • There are relatively few students now and in the foreseeable future who will select such colleges.  Most will consider them as an expensive luxury. 

8. Nine of our top 10 direct competitors for prospective students are universities.

  • Many would be surprised to learn that the top four competitors of Mount Union in a cross application analysis are Kent State University, The University of Akron, Ashland University and Ohio University.
  • Only one institution among our top 10 competitors (Baldwin-Wallace College is #5) is named a college.  Numbers 6-10 are Ohio State University, Bowling Green State University, Walsh University, John Carroll University and Ohio Northern University. 

9. Many colleges like us have or are planning to make a change to university, and others are currently investigating the rationale to do so.

  • Among the 10 Ohio Athletic Conference institutions, the only ones that are still referred to as colleges are Wilmington, Marietta and Baldwin-Wallace.  Muskingum and Heidelberg recently made the change and Otterbein is in the process of doing so.
  • In Stark County, Walsh and Malone are now universities.
  • While the change from college to university by other institutions does not dictate strategic direction at Mount Union, failing to be responsive to the changing landscape of higher education could be detrimental.

10.  The time is favorable to position Mount Union as a university.

  • We would make this move from a position of strength. 
  • In a very competitive market, taking a proactive stance is essential.
  • A change to university and a rebranding strategic plan would equate to a strengthened market position. 
  • The current landscape of higher education provides a strong rationale to make a change now, unlike previous examination of the issue.
  • At this time, because of pending projects and the need to rebrand, the add-on cost for making a name change would be manageable.  There will be an additional cost, but we view this as an investment in the future.
  • In weighing the cost to make the change, we must also consider the lost opportunity cost associated with failing to do so.
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