White Paper: Strategic Name Initiative
In 45 years, Metropolitan State College of Denver has grown from its initial enrollment of 1,189 students to today’s student population topping 24,000, making it the institution that educates more undergraduate Coloradans than any other. Metro State also stands as the leader in diverse enrollment among Colorado’s four-year colleges, with 6,806 students of color composing 28.4 percent of our student body. Located in Denver’s urban “hub,” Metro State boasts more than 67,500 alumni—80 percent of whom stay in Colorado—and offers 54 major fields of study and 90 minors through its three schools: Business; Letters, Arts and Sciences; and Professional Studies. In 2010, the College added three master’s degree programs to its offerings.
Today, Metro State impacts students and the communities in which they live in countless ways, including:
- Aviation and Aerospace Science students are soaring high with management-level positions at Denver International Airport.
- Hospitality, Tourism and Events students are volunteering their expertise in a variety of settings from homeless shelters and kitchens in metro Denver, to luncheons for the governor’s office, to the Super Bowl’s “Taste of the NFL.” In 2012, this rapidly growing academic program will become one of only 11 programs of its type in the nation to have a Hotel and Hospitality Learning Center when construction on Metro State’s HLC is complete.
- Management students are providing strategic analysis to local businesses wanting to take their business to the next level through the Denver Metro Small Business Development Center.
- Teacher licensure students are teaching our youth in K-12 schools in urban and rural areas throughout the state. And many graduates are serving as principals in DPS schools, including Cesar Cedillo of Bruce Randolph School, which President Barack Obama cited as an example of education reform at its finest in his 2011 State of the Union address.
- The Theatre Program was chosen by Kaiser Permanente as its partner in a community theatre troupe that educates elementary school children about obesity.
- The Innovation Fund Microlending program is a joint-enterprise between Metro State’s Center for Innovation and the Rocky Mountain Microfinance Institute to get loans to Metro State students and community entrepreneurs seeking capital to grow their businesses.
- Metro State’s federally funded College Assistant Migrant Program (CAMP) provides financial assistance and support services to migrant farm workers and their families who are eligible to receive federal financial aid.
- Almost 400 students volunteered for the Denver’s Road Home event to connect homeless people with services.
While Metro State has been resourceful in continually identifying innovative ways to enhance educational opportunities for the state’s citizens, meet growing workforce demands and create programs and partnerships that address pressing urban needs, the new reality of reduced higher education spending combined with dramatic enrollment growth requires that Metro State identify innovative ways to sustain its valuable contribution to Colorado’s higher education landscape and economy. Whether making the College more appealing for private funding and sponsorships or attracting the partnerships and resources needed to enhance mission delivery, now is the time for all institutions to be resourceful in ensuring sustainability.
One of the critical components of this effort involves unifying and strengthening Metro State’s image, enhancing its name recognition and building its brand identity. As part of a previous brand assessment conducted in 2006 and 2009, it was determined that while Metro State has made strides in improving its image in the community, Metro State’s brand identity and name had low awareness, negative stigmas, lower-quality perception and confused positioning as a community or two-year college. Of more concern was the fact that the brand identity and name reinforced the image of lower expectations among current and prospective students, posing challenges to Metro State’s mission-critical goals for student recruitment, retention and graduation.
Over the past few years, Metro State has charted a course to establish itself as one of the preeminent public urban baccalaureate institutions in the country. The brand assessment findings, combined with the College’s strategic planning goals to 1) prepare students for success; 2) deliver high-quality education; 3) foster community collaboration; and 4) enhance diversity, caused the Board of Trustees and other college leaders to take pause and identify the critical need to leverage all of the institution’s brand assets, beginning with something as foundational as the institution’s name, to effectively to position the College for continued success.
In February 2010, the Board of Trustees passed a resolution to assess the Metro State name. The consultants who conducted the 2006 and 2009 brand assessment were asked to conduct a more in- depth assessment of the institution’s name across various levels, including awareness and understanding of name; effectiveness in supporting mission, vision, brand; effectiveness of the name’s individual words, i.e., Metropolitan, State, College, Denver; and other influencing factors surrounding the name. The goal of the assessment was to examine the strengths and weaknesses of the current name and identify if and how the name is impacting the brand and positioning of the College. Insights were gathered from more than 1,000 key stakeholders, including alumni, students, faculty, staff, employers, community members, legislators and Metro State boards using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods, including stakeholder-input sessions, focus groups, one-on-one interviews and electronic surveys. Case studies and research related to other college name changes were also reviewed.
In June 2010, initial findings from the name assessment revealed the following:
- While there have been improvements in the image and reputation of Metro State, the current name Metropolitan State College of Denver does not clearly reflect the College’s position as a four-year institution. Some 15 percent of regional employers who have some connection to Metro State still view the institution as a community college and some 12 percent of alumni surveyed believe that the institution is still viewed as a community college. Many people are still uncertain what category of college it is—viewing it as a community college or somewhere in between a two- year institution and a four-year college. In addition, many feel the College, despite producing more than 67,500 graduates over the last 45 years, remains unknown by many in the general community and there is low awareness of Metro State outside of the seven-county metropolitan area.
- While some degrees are viewed as top notch, overall the quality perception of Metro State and the value perception of the degree remain low. More than 80 percent of regional businesses replied that the name does not reflect quality and prestige. More than 60 percent of alumni feel the current name does not reflect quality and prestige, and 43 percent of alumni don’t believe a Metro State degree has the same value as other four-year colleges in the state. For some, the 3 perception of Metro State being a “cheap” college that students attend when they can’t get in anywhere else remains.
- The majority of respondents, including 53 percent of alumni surveyed, feel that the name does not adequately reflect the institution as it is today in terms of size, complexity of offerings, including new programs and master’s degrees, or the degree of impact the College is having on the region and the state.
- Overall the name Metropolitan State College of Denver was identified as being too long, difficult to remember, unclear to many and rarely used in its longer, legal reference. 68 percent of employers think the name is too long and 55 percent of regional employers feel the name is not memorable. Most people abbreviate to Metro State or Metro—which makes it more memorable but leaves out important higher education category descriptors, like college and geography. The majority of people feel a name is critical in establishing a college’s identity as it gives the institution legitimacy and gets noticed on résumés. Many believe a name plays a specific role in reflecting the category of institution, i.e., community college, state college, university, etc. Most also believe that reinforcing geography is an important attribute of a name.
- For most, the two most important words in the current name were Denver and State. Denver reinforces strong geographic brand equity as well as the concepts of urban and diverse, and State implies public institution, affordability and accessibility, three qualities about the College that are highly valued. For most respondents, the word college doesn’t automatically imply four-year institution, and leads to some confusion with community college. The institution’s history and proximity to the Community College of Denver compounds this confusion.
- When asked to define the difference between the words college and university, for the vast majority of those surveyed, the word university clearly implies a four-year institution and advanced degrees and carries more prestige than college. The word also implies a larger student body, more complexity in offerings, and more diverse offerings. The majority of respondents felt Metro State would benefit from using the word university and that the word more accurately positions Metro State’s offerings, including master’s degrees. Over 90 percent of employers felt using the word university would be an advantage in the name. Over 80 percent of alumni prefer the word university. According to the Carnegie Institute’s definition of a university, offering master’s degrees does qualify a college to be called a university.
- The biggest challenge with any name change for Metro State is the erroneous perception among external audiences that a name change signals “mission shift.” This concern was expressed by members of the Latino community and state legislators, in particular. While many embrace Metro State’s mission, there is less understanding about how accessibility, affordability and the concept of “high-quality education” can co-exist for Metro State. Once respondents were provided the data to demonstrate Metro State’s continued commitment to its mission, including growth among students of color, increasing retention and graduation rates, tuition strategies that ensure access, and post-graduate opportunities for Metro State students, the fear of mission shift subsided. Many came to their own conclusion during interviews that strengthening Metro State’s overall position as an institution will only serve to enhance opportunities for students, area employers and Colorado’s economy. But this finding indicates the need for a strong message platform to accompany any name change.
President Stephen Jordan remains committed to the College’s mission as evidenced by the results of the five-year recruitment and retention efforts that demonstrate the College’s continuing service to low-income and students of color.
- For instance:
- The percentage of our student population who are Pell-eligible has gone from 23 to 34 percent.
- The percentage of low-income (which includes Pell-eligible) to middle-income students, has gone from 36 to 46 percent, meaning nearly one-half of our student body falls in this category.
- First-generation students have gone from 25 to 30 percent.
- Students of color have grown from 24 percent to 28 percent, continuing Metro State’s status as the leader in educating the greatest number of students of color.
- The number of continuing students jumped to 72 percent in 2009-10 from 57 percent in 2004-05.
- First-time full-time freshmen retention increased to 67 percent in 2008-09 from 61 percent in 2004-05.
- Full-time transfers improved to 71 percent retention in 2008-09 from 68 percent in 2004-05.
- The majority of constituents, including students, faculty and alumni, are in favor of adjusting the name to raise the feel of prominence and prestige, move away from negative connotations, raise awareness of the College, and reflect more of what the College has become. They feel the timing of the College offering master’s degrees, constructing new Metro State-only buildings on campus, and growing in size make it opportunistic.
Case studies from other higher education institutions that have undergone name changes indicate that while name changes are most often driven by hard issues such as growth or funding goals, a new mission, new programs and internal reorganization, in many cases a name change addresses issues such as enhancing image; building more clarity prestige and dignity: enhancing geographic identity and building self awareness. For many schools, the rewards of a name change are largely tied to enhanced image and prestige, the value of enhanced prestige being seen as a key factor for attracting new donors (especially when connected to other strategic initiatives); quality faculty, administrators and students: and achievement of a higher level of academic excellence.
After careful consideration of the findings, the Board of Trustees evaluated the risks and rewards of exploring a new name for the College. They believe firmly that, if done well, a name change could first and foremost support the mission and strategic planning initiatives of the College. In addition, they believe that any name that serves to elevate and clarify the position of the College would not only help the institution attract more private dollars and maximize opportunities for growth, but would raise quality expectations as well as the retention and graduation rates of our students. Finally, there is a strong belief that a ”rising tide raises all ships” and that by raising the quality image of Metro State through a new name, Colorado’s entire higher education community stands to benefit by further reinforcing Colorado’s public postsecondary education system as being nationally competitive in offering high-quality, accessible education regardless of geographic location and socioeconomic station.
Currently, four prospective names are in testing stage to better reflect the College’s identity. Key factors in choosing a potential name were:
- The ability to reflect the College as a four-year institution
- The ability to reflect the College as a public institution
- The ability to reflect the College as a high-quality institution
- The ability to highlight a geographic reference to the name
- The ability to incorporate key brand traits such as urban, diverse and accessible
- The ability to reflect a memorable, easily communicable name
- Metropolitan State College of Denver
- Metropolitan State University of Denver
- University of Central Colorado
- Denver State University