Western State to consider name change

Six months ago, a survey found then-Mesa State College students, alumni and staff preferred University of Western Colorado to any other suggested name for the school.

The college’s board of trustees decided to rename the institution Colorado Mesa University instead.

Now, Western State College is considering using the abandoned name or one similar to it. Western State President Jay Helman confirmed to The Daily Sentinel this week his school is considering a new name that will likely contain a combination of the words “University,” “Western” and “Colorado.”

“It’s under discussion,” Helman said. “There is no name picked because we haven’t determined if we’re going to do it.”

Western State’s trustees passed a resolution in March opposing use of the terms of “Western” or “West” in any other Colorado college or university’s title. Colorado Mesa President Tim Foster said he and Colorado Mesa’s trustees took that objection into consideration when selecting a new name in April. Foster said “it’s hard to say” but “possible” Colorado Mesa would have selected University of Western Colorado as its new moniker if Western State hadn’t complained.

Foster said he worries potential students may have trouble differentiating between the schools in Grand Junction and Gunnison if one has Western Colorado in the name even though both are in that region.

“We hold ourselves to be the institution in western Colorado that brands ourselves as serving that region. They historically want to be a liberal arts and sciences college,” Foster said.

“If they want to be Western State University, go get ‘em. I don’t care what they name it as long as they don’t confuse our brand.”

Helman said he understands Foster’s view and wants to discuss with him how a name change could be done in a way that helps potential students understand the difference between the two schools. Helman has been invited to attend a Colorado Mesa board of trustees meeting Wednesday and plans to get Colorado Mesa trustees’ input before making any recommendation to his own trustees.

“It’s been pretty clear to us at this point having Western Colorado in the name is a concern to (Colorado) Mesa because we’re both in Colorado and I understand that,” Helman said. “It’s really important that Western and Mesa have really thoughtful conversations about this so it’s not confusing.”

Helman said the main priority for Western State is to add “University” to its name so that it is not confused with two-year colleges, which he said are increasingly dropping “Junior” and “Community” from their names. He also wants to add Colorado to the name, he said, so it is easier for out-of-state students to identify where the school is, and leave Western somewhere in the title to maintain brand recognition.

The name change is not a certainty. Western State hosted one all-campus discussion this fall about a potential name change and plans to host another on Tuesday. Student forums are under way and an email was sent to alumni asking them for an opinion on the possible change. If enough information is gathered from constituents in time, Helman said a leadership team at the college will make a recommendation about whether to pursue a new name at the next Western State Board of Trustees meeting Oct. 28.

Sandra Mark, vice chair of Western’s board of trustees, said her fellow board members are mixed on the possibility of a new name “but probably more on the positive side.” Mark said Western has been considering a new name “for some time.”

She said several factors will have to be considered, including the cost of a name change. But she believes the idea is worth exploring as long as the college keeps at least one part of its name intact.

“I think the name Western has to be in there somewhere, whether it’s popular in Grand Junction or not,” Mark said.


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