College and university name change : a study of perceived strategy and goal achievement

Spencer, D. Cole, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Pate, Robert, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Burbach, Harold, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Gibbs, Annette, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

Between 1992 and 2001, a total of 785 colleges and universities changed their names. Name changes ranged from the addition or subtraction of a word to a complete transition from one name to another. Whether name changes were institution driven or a part of a state system-wide system requirement, the changes sparked a range of reactions from controversy to appreciation among the stakeholders of the various colleges and universities.

This dissertation is a report of an investigation of why colleges and universities change their names, to inquire about the process, and to determine the perceived outcome of the name changes. The study provides critical insight from the colleges and universities who have gone through the process for those who are considering such a change. This study also determines the reasons for changes and the frequency of name changes. In addition, colleges and universities that participated in the study were asked if they perceived the name changes as successful and on what criteria they based their perceptions.

The investigation involved 134 colleges and universities across the United States. The 134 institutions were selected because they were four-year schools that had undertaken a complete name change. A complete name change means that the identifying component of the college or university name was changed. An example of a complete name change would be Beaver College changing its name to Arcadia University.

Of the original 134 colleges and universities that were contacted for an interview, forty-eight agreed to participate. The forty-eight institutions participated in either a phone interview or responded to a written questionnaire. The forty-eight schools included thirty state-supported schools, sixteen private institutions, and two for-profit schools. The level of enrollment in these schools ranged from 96 to 20,301 students. Finally, through the preliminary literature review and subsequent research, it is apparent that the varieties of compelling reasons for name changes have one ultimate purpose. While reasons for the name changes included eliminating inappropriate names, state mandated changes, and a more marketable name among others; administrators gave similar answers when it came to identifying the reason for the perceived success. Whether the name change was perceived successful due to having a better reputation, improved inquiries, new programs, or alumni giving, each answer appeared to be designed for increased enrollment.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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