Opinions this month: University vs. College


Mount Mary College may soon become Mount Mary University. This consideration was based on a discussion that took place at the January 2011 all-college workshop, and a task force has been appointed by President Eileen Schwalbach to study the issue. There are numerous advantages to becoming a university that should be considered in this debate.

Mount Mary is currently considered a small university in a Carnegie higher education rating system. Mount Mary already has seven graduate degrees, drawing it closer to being a university than a typical college that can grant no higher than a bachelor’s degree. We now also have the first Ph.D program in art therapy in the country, drawing the school closer to university status.

Perhaps changing the college’s name to university reflects a direction this school has already established. Bringing attention to Mount Mary’s offerings and backing the curriculum up with a university designation will draw attention to students hoping for a quality education from the U.S. and abroad. University degrees are recognized in other countries as representing higher education, whereas colleges represent the equivalent of high school. Increased enrollment of foreign students presents an opportunity for Mount Mary to grow and diversify.

This may increase the potential for dynamic scholarship across all curricula. Universities typically attract funding opportunities to their programs. Mount Mary’s graduate program may be strengthened by becoming a university, attracting more private funding and potentially broadening the range of graduate programs. Increasing the role of the graduate school widens the scope of Mount Mary scholarship, and in the long term may increase the value of the degree.

Increased enrollment, increased funding and greater visibility will also have an impact on the culture of Mount Mary. This will be a good thing if we remember the strengths the college already possesses. Small, intimate class settings and the availability of instructors for one-on-one attention is one of the reasons Mount Mary is a unique educational institution.

Creating an environment friendly to a diverse range of students and perhaps expanding the curriculum doesn’t necessarily mean the unique character Mount Mary currently possesses will cease to exist. The potential for creating a university that offers personalized attention, with the prestige of a higher value degree, would be a noteworthy accomplishment.

Mount Mary would remain attractive to the kinds of students already happy with the style and atmosphere offered here, while giving them more choices, and more importantly the possibility of the value of a university degree as a reward for their educational endeavors.

These qualities can remain intact, perhaps strengthened, if as a university Mount Mary is able to focus on these strengths and still compete in the world of other academic institutions. The foundation for Mount Mary’s niche in the community is firmly in place.

Why not expand on what already works at Mount Mary, but continue to move forward? Embracing the advances of our modern culture while retaining the intimate, old-world traditions that flourish at Mount Mary could create a scenario that could become the best of all possible worlds.


If Mount Mary College decides to become Mount Mary University, I believe that the one word difference will imply many changes for us. I think the allocation of funds may transform, the personal feel of the campus will shift, and the new name might no longer be recognizable to alumnae and the community.

One of my concerns is that the money spent on new marketing campaigns and signs, no matter how large or small the sum, will negate any facility improvements and repairs. In my opinion, there are many areas of campus that need improvement. I also worry that if they are not done, there might be a lack of new, potential student interest.

By keeping the college name, we are helping to further our mission: “Mount Mary College … provides an environment for the development of the whole person.” We are putting forth all our efforts to fight the pertinent issues of social justice and women’s leadership in today’s economy by helping our community members graduate, and I believe part of what makes this work is our tight-knit community.

Some students, myself in particular, chose Mount Mary because of the close-knit atmosphere, which sets our school apart from other institutions. A name change could mean we lose some of our intimacy and comfort.

We’ve already seen some structural changes with the replacement of our old bookstore. Yes, it gave new jobs to students, but it took away from the nostalgic atmosphere. I often walk past that empty room and think about how I would spend countless hours looking at everything in there. My grandmother, mother and aunt, who also attended Mount Mary, surely did the same. I found extreme comfort in that on stressful days.

If Mount Mary starts adding separate colleges within the school, it could lose the intimacy associated with the campus by separating us further apart. This could lead to a less cohesive campus and also alter the atmosphere that drew us here and have all come to know and love.

The Mount Mary name is recognizable by all alumnae and the community and I worry that a name change could mean starting over. We count on alumnae and the community for funding and support. If they get a letter from Mount Mary University, will they know it’s their alma mater or will they discard it?

These changes may or may not happen, but I am concerned about the outcomes of a name change. This may be cliche, but if the name is not broken, why fix it?

Shannon Lynch contributed to this article.


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