Friday, November 30, 2007
The NAME is the GAME: University Name Changes and the Marketing Impact
Southwest Texas St. University Normal School was founded in 1903 in San Marcos, Texas. Fast forward one hundred years and the school is now named Texas St. In those 100 years, the school grew and went through a total of 5 name changes. You might look at some of the earlier changes and think to yourself that these changes were entirely linked to the growth of a school, as well as the upgrade from a traditional College to a University. The most recent change does not fit that pattern at all.
In 2003, Southwest Texas St. changed their name to Texas St. This move was not made because the school had gone through any monumental change. It was a name change with one thing in mind: marketing and re-branding the university. In a state where the collegiate scene is dominated by University of Texas (ever since the folding of the Southwest Conference which featured other Texas schools such as Texas A&M, Baylor, Rice, Houston, SMU and TCU), Texas St. has made an attempt to step in and take a coveted spot in the school-name game: The flagship State University. In the process they would follow a trend of schools in recent years and attempt to drop a directional school nomenclature such as southwestern.
When you look across the country y one will see that many of the states have two university systems. In Texas, you have the University of Texas system which includes the main campus in Austin, as well as satellite campuses in El Paso, Arlington, Dallas, San Antonio and 10 other locations. The Texas State University system includes such schools as Lamar University, Sam Houston St., and Sul Ross St. What has been missing in the landscape of the Texas schools had been a clearly defined Texas State. Since 2003, that void has been filled. Southwest Texas St. is now Texas State University-San Marcos.
The trend to change a schools name to fill a marketing void and capitalize on a brand is nothing new.
Historically, there have been a plethora of common name changes. Many had to do with the restructuring of school systems within each state. For instance, many of the older A&M schools (Agriculture & Mining, Agriculture & Mechanical Arts) became part of a State system. This is what happened to Colorado A&M which became Colorado St. in 1957. New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts became New Mexico State University in 1960. You will find many similar changes over the last 50 years with school names. At the time many of these such changes were made, it is difficult to determine if they were for any branding benefits or if they were for more simplistic reasons such as school system restructuring on a state level. In recent years, we have seen some more obvious changes.
In order for any future name changes to take place, it meant compromise. And the only compromise to the seemingly impossible blockade by the Louisiana Board of Regents came in the form of Act 45. This compromise has been called the LSU Rule as it would force schools such as Southwest Louisiana University and Northeast Louisiana University to agree to put LSU on a virtual pedestal within the state of Louisiana. ACT 45 required that at least two state universities change their name at the same time and that all universities who change their name change it to University of Louisiana at [city designation]. It stipulated that the city designation must be used in all official university business and has since grown far beyond its original legislative language, to regulate minute details such as font sizes to be used by the respective universities. Additionally, the bill insisted that LSU was, and would remain, the flagship university of Louisiana. This was a strange legislative act with little tie-in to LSU or the LSU System. The act also changed the name of the Board of Trustees to the University of Louisiana Board of Supervisors.
In 1999, fifteen years after the first attempt at a name change, Southwest Louisiana University became the University of Louisiana-Lafayette and Northeast Louisiana University became University of Louisiana-Monroe. While the change was not entirely what USL was looking for, it did allow them to finally drop the directional school label.
Filling the Void in Missouri
When Texas St. came to be in 2003, it opened eyes at other institutions. A name change had been discussed in previous years by Southwest Missouri State, but had complications. Unlike the situation in Texas in which there were no other directional schools, Missouri had both Southwest Missouri State and Southeast Missouri State universities. That was not the biggest problem they faced. Like the University of Louisiana-Lafayette issue with LSU, SWMS had initially proposed a name change in 1985 as it was the second largest school in the state. SWMS was fortunate enough that despite oppositions by the University of Missouri State system, on March 1st, 2005, Southwest Missouri State formally changed their name to Missouri State University.
The benefits of some of these name changes can be seen in a few areas. Outside of athletics, these name changes have brought a stronger brand to the universities. Applications will continue to rise which should increase the academic standards from each university. When looking at athletics, there is a noticeable benefit as well. In recent years, we have seen the University of Louisiana-Monroe upgrade their football to FBS (formerly I-A) and join the Sunbelt Conference for all sports. Even Missouri State flirted with an upgrade to join the Sunbelt, with rumors of conversations that started without any announced formal upgrade by the school.
And in the past few weeks, Texas State has made strides to upgrade their football program to FBS, with a likely destination being the Sunbelt. When you see programs such as Boise St. and South Florida having impacts on the FBS level, it is not a stretch to say that 20 years from now Missouri St. and Texas St. could be fully upgraded and competing with the likes of Texas and Missouri.
What Does the Future Hold?
When you look across the country, any potential name changes are based entirely on opportunity and availability. These would usually require that a school participate in Division I athletics or planning an upgrade. There are some states that seem fairly covered, with a traditional system such as Mississippi, which has the University of Mississippi and a Mississippi State University. Most of the Western, Southern and Midwestern states already have the traditional spots occupied. But there are a few ideas worth taking a look at although none are very likely to happen.
When you look at the role the athletic programs could play, the move becomes even more attractive. Central Connecticut State has a formidable FCS level football program. Their other sports participate in the Northeast Conference in which they are the only public school member. A name change could open doors for the school to join the America East Conference with regional members University of Maine, University of New Hampshire, Boston University, University of Vermont, Albany and others in the northeast.
There are a number of candidates here that might seek upgrades to Division I athletics in the future. But the larger schools such as Minnesota St-Mankato and St. Cloud State would be the logical fit for a lone Minnesota State should they ever upgrade. Right about now you are probably thinking about the television show “Coach”.
Pretty interesting. I think a lot of the universities with State in their name are land grant universities - Mississippi State, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, etc. Many are HBCUs too - Tennessee State, Kentucky State, Delaware State.
As for Cal State, there are already about a million of them.
Texas State was a good idea though. SWTSU is a mouthful.
A few thoughts:
I doubt we ever see one "Cal State U". Once one school tries it, the other I-A campuses are going to block it.
Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island are just too small to justify having a "__ State". Southern Maine, Keene State, Plymouth State, and RI College are way too small to justify the change.
UM-Duluth isn't within the Minnesota State U system, and is more akin to Cal-UCLA than it would be to the Minny State-wherevers. St. Cloud is also happy with where it is, if they had any desire to change their name they would have done it with Mankato and Moorhead, and arguably are better off having their own imprint rather than having the branch campus hyphenation.
Nevada really has the ultimate Cal-UCLA reation between UN and UNLV. Really the only logical step UNLV could take is dropping Nevada and going to ULV.
Monmouth, Rider, et al are private schools, and would have zero interest in wanting to have "state" in their name. The only possible candidates are Kean, Montclair State, Ramapo, Rowan, Stockton, and Paterson, however these are all DIII schools.
As far as Wyoming goes, there will just be U of Wyo, there's not students to justify another 4-year school, and it's doubtful there will ever be a boom like Las Vegas experienced.
You do bring up some pretty good thoughts and questions. I am wondering how much good it would do to change from a Directional State U to a Whatever State-City format, as this does give off a branch campus or campus extention feel which may be as bad or worse than being a Directional State.
There is one school in the University of New Jersey system....it is called the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey (attracted more than US$120 million of federal research funds in year 2005).
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey System, has three campuses: New Brunswick, Newark and Camden.
New Jersey Institute of Technology is the states' technological university.
Only these three universities are considered public research universities by the New Jersey government.
There are 9 other state colleges in New Jersey including the College of New Jersey (which received a lawsuit from Princeton University for the name-change from Trenton State College).
See http://www.nj.gov/highereducation/colleges/schools_sector.htm#pru for the full-list of public univerisities in New Jersey.
However, I really doubt the possibility of any college/univeristy in New Jersey competing in NCAA using the name New Jersey (like U of California - Berkeley and U of Wisonsin - Madison) unless the universities in the University Heights section of Newark (UNDNJ, NJIT & Rutgers-Newark) merge together to become a big University of New Jersey with a medical school and Dentistry college, a Law school, a Business school/college, a Science & Liberal-arts college and an Engineering college.
First, isn't Concordia (Minnesota) private Lutheran? I'd say the chances of becoming "State" are 0.
Second, for some of these schools that were mentioned in passing (possibly UW-Milwaukee or Nebraska-Omaha), they would prefer to ditch the state-hyphen and take an urban moniker (a la Cincinnati or Louisville) rather than using "State".
While not knowing the legal ramifications, Fresno State, San Diego State, and San Jose State could easily change their names to Calfornia State University but would have to use their hyphenated geographical locations. In fact, Fresno, San Diego and San Jose chose to keep their previous names rather that be California State University - Fresno etc.
I had a correspondence with the Towson Athletic Director some years back about changing their name to Maryland State University and he informed that it took quite a bit of political arm wrangling to get their present name of Towson University and therefore they were not prepared to go back to the Maryland legislature to seek another name change.
State Universities are generally from the Morrill-Land Grant Act but not always. As has been pointed out, most State Universities in the South are HBCU's. Other State Universities have evolved from teachers colleges that have grown over the years example Arizona State University.
The other recent trend for directional schools is to use acronmyns the most famous being USC but mores recent ones UCF, USF and UNLV.
Here's an article about UMass and the Amherst designation:
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