Thomas More College is pursuing university status to support a growing student population and new academic programs. Administrators say they expect it to be rolled out by 2018.
“The name ‘university’ brings prestige to a higher education institution,” Thomas More College President David Armstrong said. “As we are trying to grow our regional, national, global footprint university status is important.”
The Board of Trustees approved the movement and a task force was created in September to start work on the transition at the small liberal arts college in Northern Kentucky’s Crestview Hills.
Institutions similar to Thomas More recently already made the transition, including Manchester University in Indiana and Mount St. Joseph University in Delhi Township.
Kentucky doesn’t have any state requirements about what institutions call themselves, once they are licensed as a college or university.
Travis Powell, associate vice president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, said a request for name change happens once every couple of years, and a request is all it takes.
Once the board approves it, the school submits a supplementary licensure application to the Council.
James Owston, a researcher on college and university name changes, said the movement was popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The trend peaked in 2009.
“If you’re a university it carries a little more weight in people’s minds,” Owston said.
In addition to status, he said it’s better to be a university than a college when recruiting international students because in many counties college is synonymous with high school.
Thomas More’s current and expected growth in student population and academic programs is driving the movement.
The college, which serves nearly 2,000 students, saw its largest incoming class in school history this year. The campus gained 474 full-time traditional students, a 41 percent increase from 2015.
The college has also been adding new programs and wants to “maintain the nimble adjustment to student and faculty needs.”
“As you’re growing, trying to have a ‘one-size fits all’ administration under one college may not be the smartest move administratively,” Vice President for Academic Affairs Kathleen Jagger said.
She said the structural alignment of a university with individual colleges allows programs to develop policies and procedures that work best for each of them. That way people from nursing aren’t voting on business programs.
The task force is now looking at how the school would be structured to create multiple colleges based on cost, enrollment and academic program growth.
Jagger said it could be anything from traditional college and an adult college to separate colleges for business, education, health and others. That committee will also discuss the names of colleges.
“Some say it’s as cheap as changing your stationery and signs,” Jagger said. “Others say well you have to hire deans and the structural realignment on the administrative side of things can be expensive.”
Manchester University spent about $300,000 on its name change, according to MU President Dave McFadden. A few years later it reorganized into four colleges and moved some faculty into administrative roles rather than hiring new deans. He said the cost has paid off.
“We are much more visible today than we were at the time we made the decision,” McFadden said. “It’s not all attributed to name change, but it was a piece of that. We are becoming something new and that was a symbolic marker of that.”
Thomas More’s leaders hope the change will enhance the awareness of what they have to offer.
“I’m excited about the possibilities and potential,” Jagger said. “It will allow us to broaden recognition of Thomas More and the quality of programs we have here at all levels.”