By KELLY MATENAER
Earlier this year, Mount Mary College joined the ranks of small American colleges that have considered transitioning to what some might view as a more prestigious university designation.
According to Mount Mary’s president, Dr. Eileen Schwalbach, the seeds of this conversation were planted by the Mount Mary community and began to grow earlier this year at the all-college workshop in January. The college had not previously considered changing the school’s name but believed the community’s interest in a change warranted consideration.
After a consultation with the President’s Council, it was decided that, due to the interest of the Mount Mary community, the school should pursue the conversation and question whether the time is ripe for a name change. Following this determination, Schwalbach established a task force – chaired by former Mount Mary president Sister Ellen Lorenz, SSND – to elicit feedback from all stakeholders, including students.
The task force, consisting of faculty, administration, alumnae and board of trustees members, is currently exploring whether a change from Mount Mary College to Mount Mary University is in the school’s best interest as well as whether it is desired by the Mount Mary community.
What’s in a Name?
In the past 10 years, a plethora of higher education schools across the country and locally have made the switch from college to university. For instance, Carroll College in Waukesha is now Carroll University, and Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee considered becoming a university, but decided against it.
The line between the two names has blurred as many colleges like Mount Mary have expanded their offerings to include graduate programs, such as the school’s recently added doctorate in art therapy.
While many colleges offer rigorous curricula, there remains a perception in the community that universities offer higher-quality programs than colleges.
According to Dr. David Nixon, vice president of academic and student affairs, “There is a perception that universities are a more attractive destination for higher education. Becoming a university will only help us to recruit and retain more students, deepening our educational programming.”
Additionally, in countries like Canada, only universities may grant degrees, while colleges grant only certificates or diplomas. The trend of switching to the university designation has become increasingly popular over the past decade as individual countries seek to align their academic standards with international standards in an increasingly global economy.
Mount Mary administrators are considering this change because the institution’s growth in degree offerings, expanded program locations and enhanced learning facilities are on par with the international standards of a university rather than a college.
The Higher Learning Commission and Carnegie Commission on Higher Education both already classify Mount Mary as a small university rather than a college. The school consists of the divisional structure of a university, offers seven masters programs, and boasts a student body composed of graduate students.
Seeing the Signs
According to Reyes González, vice president for finance and administration and CFO, Mount Mary’s name-conversion would not result in any increases to tuition or fees.
In addition to the name change, the school might see some organizational changes that are typically designed to facilitate graduate programming.
Nixon said, “For some time, we have been on the trajectory of expanding the role of our graduate studies here at the college. As a general proposition, graduate programming is more effectively supportive as a university structure.”
Whatever the costs, Nixon said the school must first consider the question of whether it is both “prudent and appropriate to become Mount Mary University” before initiating the change.
Looking to the Future
Since its conception as St. Mary’s College in 1913, the school has maintained an emphasis on shaping lives and building futures. This mission has long been attractive as a focus of quality, personalized education that extends beyond the classroom.
While the discussion of this change was not consciously planned to coincide with Mount Mary’s approaching 100-year anniversary, it gives Mount Mary an incentive to think strategically about who it will become in the next 100 years to fulfill the mission of the college.
Your feedback is welcome
Mount Mary welcomes feedback from all members of its community. Whether Mount Mary remains a college or becomes a university remains open to discussion.A report with all comments and suggestions will be considered during the decision-making process. The school anticipates a decision to be made during the board of trustees meeting in February 2012. The board of trustees has voiced a commitment to include all Mount Mary stakeholders in the decision-making process and welcomes comments and suggestions from all students, alumni and the professional community.
Submit additional feedback to the taskforce at firstname.lastname@example.org. For notes on the college-to-university discussion, visit “Handouts” on www.mtmary.com.