Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 8
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Walla Walla College becomes university

Walla Walla College is the most recent in a series of colleges to adopt a new name. On the first of this month, Walla Walla College officially became Walla Walla University. The school has had the name of Walla Walla College since its foundation in 1892.

The College Place school, home to over 1,800 students, wants to convey its comprehensive nature to more people with the new title. “It will open up the possibility of having other people interested in the university,” said News and Information Coordinator Becky St. Clair.

Greg Scheiderer, director of government and public relations at Independent Colleges of Washington in Seattle, said that enrollment has gone up in colleges that have become “universities” but hesitates to link the enrollment figures to the new titles. “Branding is important, but a name is hardly ever a perfect descriptor of a school,” said Scheiderer.

According to the WWU web site, the name change reflects the true extent of the school’s curriculum. 70 percent of students are enrolled in professional programs, and officials believe that the “university” term will more accurately reflect the depth and variety of available programs.

“A lot of people look at a college and think it’s solely undergraduate,” said St. Clair. “Some people look at university as higher education than a college.” WWU offers six master’s degree programs in four areas of study, along with their extensive undergraduate programs.

There is no uniformity nationwide as to what constitutes a “university” versus a “college.” Scheiderer says that the school closest in curriculum to Whitman College is actually the University of Puget Sound: which has been a “university” for a long time.

Rather, “colleges” are often made into “universities” based on public perception of the words and as a marketing strategy. WWU is one of 14 schools nationwide that are affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. A 2005 survey by the Association of Adventist Colleges and Universities showed that 71 percent of young Adventists believed a university education was superior to a college education, with only 24 percent believing the two were equally matched. This student perception was a factor in WWU’s decision to change the name.

The WWU constituency, a group of Seventh-day Adventist delegates, voted for the change during an Oct. 1 meeting and received a budget of approximately $150,000.

“We’ve changed the signs and stationary, and there’s been paperwork,” says St. Clair. The names of the school’s store and church were also altered. The curriculum, however, will not change with the school’s title.

“For me, it hasn’t really been a big deal,” says Whit VanBlargen, a WWU sophomore. “It’s pretty much the same.”
Approval of the change has not been unanimous.

“Some of the alumni are nostalgic: they were happy with the small family feel of ‘college,'” says St. Clair, herself an ’05 graduate. “They are adjusting and some are disappointed.”

Others are happy with the new name. “I think it’s cool. ‘University’ sounds much better than a college: more prestigious,” says VanBlargen. “I think it will help when we apply for jobs and enter the workforce.”

The differentiation between the words “college” and “university” is particularly hard for international students to grasp, as the labels differ in meaning from country to country. In many countries, “college” refers to secondary education and “university” refers to post-secondary education. St. Clair says Walla Walla University’s new name will therefore open more doors for international students. The school has recently established an exchange program for Chinese students from Hong Kong.

Walla Walla University isn’t alone in making the change: Whitworth College in Spokane joined the ‘university’ crowd this July.

“The transition to Whitworth University is intended to clarify, rather than change, our core mission and identity,” said Whitworth President Bill Robinson in a press release. “We believe the ‘university’ nomenclature best reflects an institution with our profile of undergraduate, graduate and international programs. As Whitworth University, we will remain as committed as ever to the liberal-arts emphasis and the warm, interpersonal culture for which Whitworth is known.”

Despite desires to increase enrollment, Walla Walla University similarly claims on its Web site that “one thing […] will remain absolutely unchanged: our dynamic, close-knit community.”

Meanwhile, Whitman remains one of only three Washington schools to retain the “college” title, and is the only liberal arts school to do so. That, said Whitman Director of Communications Ruth Wardwell, is unlikely to change. “To become Whitman University would mean the institution would depart from teaching and learning the liberal arts exclusively, as its central focus,” Wardwell said.

“Whitman is truly a classic liberal arts college,” said Scheiderer. “There are still ‘colleges’ out there. It’s not a dead term by any means.”

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