May 07, 2003

College or University?

Via the AccidentalAdmin at the Financial Aid Office (this all begins to look like an online shadow university, doesn't it? not a college, though, and here is why):

"'College connotes a slow pace, cozy campuses, tweedy faculty, ivy-covered gothic-style buildings and a curriculum that runs to the classics. University denotes a bustling city of academic energy and scientific progress, with things always moving and shaking with an eye to the future and the main chance.'

Guess which image is more appealing to 21st-century teenagers and their tuition-paying parents? George Dehne & Associates, a consulting firm, found that two-thirds of prospective students said they planned to enroll in a public or private university, not college. Dehne found that universities were more highly regarded than colleges by employers and graduate schools and more likely to be credited with having better students, a better social life, greater diversity of students, greater prestige and stronger science programs."

-- Jay Mathews, "Colleges Upgrade Their Image"

Apparently some college officials are having a hard time deciding whether to update to the 21st century. Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity College in northeast Washington, for example, has "read research data that show U.S. teenagers believe universities are better than colleges, and potential applicants overseas associate the word 'college' with their version of high school." On the other hand, she notes, "'"We have a brand name that is distinctive in the Washington market and that means a lot to our alumnae.'"

Solid brand name recognition, but at the risk of conjuring up images of a potentially outmoded institution? Or a risky rebranding that potentially alienates the loyalty of an established base of supporters, while appealing to the sensibilities of the next generation of consumers? It's a tough call.

Leo Lambert, president of what was once Elon College and what is now Elon University, reports that while he's "not sure there's any connection," applications for admission to the school "have increased 30 percent since the switch, and campus visits are up 67 percent."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at May 7, 2003 12:16 PM

My vague understanding of this indicates that whether an institution is a Collegor or a University is a matter of certification, that some board somewhere determines what the school will be called. Is this so and if so, do you know how the requirements differ?

Posted by: Jeremy Osner at May 7, 2003 06:39 PM

I don't think it has anything to do with certification. I believe an institution of higher education is free to call itself whatever it pleases: collge, university, institute, etc.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at May 7, 2003 08:21 PM

How sad. "A slow pace, cozy campuses, tweedy faculty, ivy-covered gothic-style buildings and a curriculum that runs to the classics" sure appeals to me. One more sign I'm a man out of his century.

Posted by: language hat at May 7, 2003 10:07 PM

It appeals to me, too. But look where it got me.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at May 7, 2003 10:51 PM

college sounds US American

very american

Posted by: meika von samorzewski at May 8, 2003 03:54 AM

I always thought that as a general rule of thumb "college" meant either a school that awarded bachelor and master level degrees or a constituent unit within a university and "university" meant a school that awarded doctoral degrees in addition to lower level degrees.

Posted by: Jim at May 8, 2003 09:17 PM

I can't help but think that part of this is simple semantic bleed: one can't help think of "college" without thinking "community college," with all of the attendant connotations of remediation and underachievement.

Posted by: Chris at May 8, 2003 10:38 PM

I, being an ignorant fool, have never quite understood what makes a college a college. I mean, what's the definition?

Posted by: David Weman at May 11, 2003 01:09 AM

I'd always assumed that "college" connoted undergraduate-focused education while "university" connoted major institutional involvement in graduate education.

Sociologically, though, "colleges" are either at the top or the bottom of the undergraduate education hierarchy in the U.S. Small, exclusive liberal-arts schools, the ones at the top of their annual rankings, wouldn't think of billing themselves as "universities." Less self-confident institutions are frightened of being confused with "business colleges" or "bible colleges," although most of those are going with the "university" moniker as well.

Posted by: Naomi Chana at May 13, 2003 12:15 AM