Alumni ponder Mesa State’s possible name change
Diplomas across the nation may soon bear the name of a bygone institution: Mesa State College.
For some, the name already describes an extinct campus where the thought of 8,000 students seemed like crazy talk and completing a four-year degree meant you had reached the end of your educational experience.
The Mesa State of today is building at a record pace, and that doesn’t just include construction. Programs and majors are expanding, and the college offers master’s degrees in three departments, plus a doctorate of nursing practice. Residence halls are near capacity at all times, no matter how many new ones are built.
The expansion is enough to make trustees and Mesa State leaders ponder swapping “college” for “university.” Continuing state budget cuts have the college wondering if it should take out “Mesa State,” too.
Adding something to the name to indicate where Mesa State is located could help recruit out-of-state students and their tuition dollars, according to Rick Taggart, Mesa State executive director of marketing and recruitment. If trustees decide soon to proceed with a name change, Taggart said they might as well use the Band-Aid theory and go with a name that better indicates where the school is and what it is capable of offering as a university.
“I’m one of those folks who believes firmly you don’t change names often. We need to do it all at once,” Taggart said.
The college’s board of trustees will decide soon whether to go forward with a name change based on information from focus groups, a tele-town hall for alumni taking place Tuesday, and a survey sent to more than 20,000 alumni plus students, staff and faculty. If the trustees decide to change the name, another survey will be sent out, likely in April, asking the same people to rank their favorite name. Trustees will vote to select one name, then the Colorado Legislature will have to approve that selection.
Jamie Hamilton, who graduated in 1978 from what was then Mesa College, said there’s reason to be concerned out-of-state students wouldn’t recognize “Mesa State College” as located in Colorado. Hamilton still has the program from a baseball game in Hawaii where the Mesa State’s players were mistakenly listed as being from Mesa, Ariz.
However, a name change may make it harder to raise money from alumni who don’t know about the change, said Hamilton, who is president and chief executive officer of Home Loan and is the college’s assistant athletic director.
He also can see the benefit of a new name, especially his personal favorite: University of Western Colorado.
“There is a connotation with university that would help from a marketing standpoint, and I could see it being attractive to out-of-state students,” Hamilton said.
Taking away the moniker “Mesa State” would disappoint 2009 graduate Krista Ubersox, who would rather call the school Mesa State University. “But I wouldn’t lose sleep over it,” she said.
“I’m partial to leaving Mesa in there because Grand Junction is such a tight-knit community and Mesa just kind of defines that,” Ubersox said.
Ubersox, a substitute specialist for School District 51, said she moved from Wisconsin to attend Mesa State after high school because the community was bigger than where she was from but still small enough that she “didn’t feel like a number” at school. She doesn’t think Mesa State will lose that feeling with a new name.
“I don’t feel Grand Junction is going to be enormous in the next few years. It will still be very much a community school,” she said.
Maintaining that community feel is a high priority for alumni, said Rick Adelman, alumni relations director.
“As long as it makes us better at being an institution, people seem to care more about that than a name,” he said.
That’s exactly how Grand Junction City Councilman and Superior Alarm owner Bruce Hill feels. Hill, who graduated in the 1970s with a degree from Mesa College, said he recently discussed the name change with his daughter, Tiffany West, who received a diploma from Mesa State in 2005.
The two agreed, “The name isn’t important. The quality of education is important, and from all indications I get that’s going to remain the same,” Hill said.
Adelman said the alumni board researched what happened when other colleges changed to a university, and the transition was positive if the name truly suited the institutions.
“If they’re just doing it as a marketing gimmick, it hasn’t been really successful,” he said.
Doralyn Genova, who attended Mesa College in the 1960s and ‘70s before graduating in 1976, said she understands the marketing goals behind the name change, but she’s not sure it’s what is needed to bring students to campus.
She said the college may just need to wait for word of newly-constructed buildings and ever-expanding programs to reach other parts of the country.
“A new name will help a little, but I’m not sure it’s the whole answer to the funding problem,” Genova said. As a member of the alumni board, “they’re going to have to give me a really good reason to change the name.”
“Mesa” has been part of the school’s name since 1937, Genova said, and taking that out of the name would be harder for her to accept than the change from Mesa College to Mesa State College in 1989.
For State Sen. Steve King, though, enough has changed about the school he attended 30 years ago as a psychology and criminal justice student to warrant a leap into something brand new. The Grand Junction Republican plans to carry a bill in the state legislature this spring authorizing the college to change its name.
“I think this is just part of the evolution of that facility,” King said. “Don’t get me wrong, tradition is an important thing. But I also think that when you’re dealing with an institution like Mesa State with young people coming in all the time with constant change and constant energy, you have to be aware of what those young people are interested in as well.”
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Here’s a look at how Mesa State College’s name has evolved through the years.
• 1925 Grand Junction Junior College was founded.
• 1932 Name changed to Grand Junction State Junior College.
• 1937 Name changed to Mesa College.
• 1988 Name changed to Mesa State College.
Mesa State and Metro State, which plans to change its name to Denver State University pending legislative approval, wouldn’t be the first institutions of higher learning in Colorado to change names. Some other schools with revamped monikers include:
• Adams State College
Name since: 1945.
Past names: State Normal School at Alamosa; Adams State Normal School; and Adams State Teachers College of Southern Colorado.
• Colorado State University
Name since: 1957.
Past names: Agricultural College of Colorado; Colorado State College of Agricultural and Mechanic Arts; and Colorado Agricultural & Mechanical College.
• Colorado State University-Pueblo
Name since: 2003.
Past names: Southern Colorado Junior College; Pueblo Junior College; Southern Colorado State College; and University of Southern Colorado.
• Fort Lewis College
Name since: 1964.
Past name: Fort Lewis A&M College.
• Regis University
Name since: 1991.
Past names: Las Vegas College (when it was in Las Vegas, N.M.); College of the Sacred Heart (when in Morrison); and Regis College.
• The University of Northern Colorado
Name since: 1970.
Past names: Colorado State Normal School; Colorado State Teachers College; Colorado State College of Education; and Colorado State College.
Sources: The institutions’ websites.