Changes in name could lift stature

Monday, February 14, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:37 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008

Achievement is all in the name for a few Missouri state schools.

The Senate Education Panel recently approved name changes for four institutes of higher education. If the legislation is passed in the General Assembly, Missouri Western State College and Harris-Stowe State College will change the word “college” to “university” in their names. Missouri Southern State University-Joplin would drop the city from its name.

In addition, Southwest Missouri State University would change its name to Missouri State University.

Representatives from Missouri Western and Harris-Stowe said the name changes would illustrate their advancement.

“We think the name change will enhance the value of the degrees the students have earned,” said Todd Duncan, vice president of communications, marketing and development at Harris-Stowe State College. “Moving from ‘college’ to ‘university’ is an indication of an increase in our size and our evolving standing in the educational community.”

Beth Wheeler, director of external relations for Missouri Western State College, said the name change would more accurately represent what the college is doing.

“Missouri Western has the profile of being a university already when you look at achievement of students and diversity of programs,” Wheeler said. “It’s the next step as we emerge as an institution.”

Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, introduced the legislation to change Missouri Southern State University-Joplin’s name to Missouri Southern State University. Nodler said the name change was a practical matter.

“It would be nice to clean (the university’s name) up,” Nodler said.

University name changes have been a part of legislation for some time.

The SMSU debate formally dates to 1988, when a name change was first proposed in the state legislature. SMSU officials argued the name change would reflect its growth from a regional teachers college to Missouri’s second-largest university.

Name-change opponents argue that dropping the “Southwest” would take away prestige, money and other resources from MU.

Supporters maintain that SMSU deserves the name change to mark its importance to the state. It would be SMSU’s fourth name change.

Other regional universities have sought name changes. In 1995, Northeast State University changed its name to Truman State University. Then-Gov. Mel Carnahan approved the legislation on the 10th anniversary of the university’s expansion from regional to statewide institution.

University officials said that since then it has seen an increase in the number of students applying to graduate schools. Heidi Templeton, director of public relations at Truman State University, attributed the rise to 10 years the university spent working on its statewide liberal arts and sciences mission.

“When you have a name like Truman State University, there’s some recognition as far as the name, but really the academic program is the key,” Templeton said.

Nodler said the change from “college” to “university” is a wise idea for Missouri Western and Harris-Stowe.

“To most of the world, the word university means a baccalaureate-granting institution,” Nodler said.

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