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Colleges Rebrand to Attract More Students

CASTLETON, Vt. — What’s in a name? For colleges looking to gain prestige along with more students and precious out-of-state tuition dollars, plenty.

Faced with declining enrollment, reduced public funding or both, some state colleges and universities are adding graduate programs and changing their names to attract more students and compete with private institutions.

Vermont’s Castleton State College has added five graduate programs in the past five years and hopes to become Castleton University to reflect what it has become and to attract more out-of-state and foreign students, who pay more in out-of-state tuition rates and who could help offset budget concerns.

“We need to be somewhat entrepreneurial in other areas of where we can generate revenue, and certainly graduate programs are one of those areas where we can experience growth,” school spokesman Jeffrey Weld said.

It’s normal for colleges to rename themselves as they grow and change. But Thomas Harnisch, director of state relations and policy analysis for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, is seeing more of it, as community colleges become state colleges and state colleges become universities based on what they now offer students.

“To some, this represents the natural growth and evolution of campuses in response to state needs, but to others this just represents old-fashioned mission creep,” he said.

The Richard Stockton State College of New Jersey became Stockton University this year in order to reflect its growth in graduate programs. Luring more out-of-state students is an added benefit, spokeswoman Maryjane Briant said.

The former Troy State University in Troy, Alabama, which has 12 percent international students on campus and offers overseas programs for military personnel and online offerings, opted to drop the “state” from its name in 2004 to better reflect the school’s reach, spokesman Andy Ellis said. The idea of drawing more out-of-state students to pay higher tuition was a contributing factor, he said.

Mesa State College in Grand Junction Colorado changed to Colorado Mesa University in 2011; six Massachusetts state colleges became state universities in 2010.

Most states are spending less per student in the 2014-2015 school year than they did in 2008, the start of the Great Recession, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and South Carolina are spending more than 35 percent less on per-student funding since the start of the recession, and in 13 states that funding dropped over the past year.

Castleton, a school of roughly 2,000 students, hopes that a change to Castleton University will give the school a broader appeal, particularly to out-of-state and foreign students.

Castleton’s state appropriation as a percentage of its operating budget has dropped around 6 percent over the past 10 years. The Vermont State Colleges Board of Trustees sets the in-state tuition, now about $10,000 a year for undergraduates. Castleton comes up with the out-of-state tuition, now more than $25,000, based on its budget and projections and subject to board approval.

About 70 percent are Vermont students; 30 percent are out-of-staters. But Castleton would like to attract more.

“Sixty-forty is a healthy place to be,” Weld said. “It gives up a lot more flexibility in terms of stabilizing tuition prices; it gives us a lot more flexibility in enhancing our offerings.”

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