Publications & Products
Volume 4, Issue 6

Playing the Name Game

An advancement leader at a two-year institution that recently started offering four-year degrees pushed to drop "community college" from its name.

Highline Community College in Des Moines, Washington, changed its name to Highline College in July 2014. (Incidentally, this was the college's original name from 1961 to 1967.) Lisa Skari, vice president of institutional advancement, says the name change was influenced by the college's addition of four Bachelor of Applied Sciences degree programs—cybersecurity and forensics, respiratory care, global trade and logistics, and youth development.

"More and more community colleges in Washington are offering bachelor's degree programs, but in neighboring Oregon, they don't have the authority to award these degrees," she says. "One of the challenges we saw with our new degrees is that these students will often travel out of state to work. So for students who have bachelor's degrees from a community college, there might be some confusion and questioning, ‘How can a community college award bachelor's degrees?'"

Skari says this concern came up during curriculum design for the new programs. She noted that the institution didn't conduct formal surveys or focus groups on a possible name change but that business and industry leaders whose companies might employ these graduates expressed concern to the institution over the possible confusion.

"We want to put students in the best possible position when they earn credentials at Highline, both in terms of what they learn here and how their education is perceived by business and industry," college board chair Bob Roegner says in a news release. "We believe changing our name will benefit students."

Still, Skari says that the new name has not changed the mission of the college. She notes that she and other college leaders articulated this at public forums following the announcement. The college's board even made "community engagement" one of the college's strategic initiatives for the future.

"Community colleges mean access, mean social justice," she says. "There were some people who value that part of our mission who worried if we no longer have ‘community' in our name we won't value those things. We're not changing who we are."

Skari notes that the name change has had an interesting side effect: those individuals not previously familiar with the institution think that Highline College sounds like a private institution. Skari says that to combat this impression, the college has been very intentional in its advertising and branding to ensure people understand it is an open-access institution serving the local community.

She notes that ultimately, name changes—especially at the community college level—are easier when they are done in conjunction with a significant programmatic change, such as adding baccalaureate degree programs.

"If we changed the name and didn't add four-year degree programs, there would have been a lot more questions," she says. "Why are you doing it? What's the impetus for the change here? Personally, I don't' think we would have done something like that."

This is the second in a two-part series on college name changes and naming conventions. Read last month's article about J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond, Virginia.

This article is from the December 2014 issue of the Community College Advancement News.

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