Huntington, Ind.—The Huntington College Board of Trustees voted tonight to change the name of the institution to Huntington University. The change will take place before the beginning of the 2005-06 school year.
“I enthusiastically welcome the Trustees’ decision to change our name to Huntington University,” said Dr. G. Blair Dowden, president. “The move reflects what we have already become and what we yet will be. The new name celebrates our heritage and positions us well for the future.”
The campus will continue to operate as Huntington College for the next several months, Dowden explained. A task force will be appointed to manage the transition to the new name, which will probably occur in mid-2005.
“Huntington will continue to be an institution that stresses the liberal arts and the Christian faith as foundational for our educational program,” Dowden said. “Our name may change; our mission will not.”
The decision comes after a year-long study. In October 2003, the Board of Trustees appointed a task force to explore the possibility of a change from college to university status. Dr. Jerry Smith, a professor and administrator at the College since 1967, was appointed chair of the task force. Other members included trustees Gary Dilley and Kelly Savage, communication professor Dr. Lance Clark, Student Senate president Joanna Shenk, Alumni Board member Janet Clark, and community representative Steve Zahn.
Throughout the past year, the task force surveyed current students, faculty, staff, parents, prospective students and representatives of the regional community. Most constituents were supportive of the change, some enthusiastically so.
The task force also examined trends in higher education and studied the experiences of other similar institutions which had recently transitioned from college to university.
Growth triggers name change
A similar study was undertaken by Huntington College in 1995. At that time, trustees decided against a move to university status. However, since that earlier study, the institution has expanded its enrollment and added new graduate and professional programs.
With the addition of seven new programs last spring, Huntington College has increased its academic offerings to over 70 undergraduate and graduate degrees and concentrations.
Huntington College has long conferred masters’ degrees in Christian ministries, and has recently added a graduate program in counseling ministries. A new master’s degree in education is currently being developed, and an undergraduate program in nursing is being studied. In addition, Huntington College offers associate’s and bachelor’s degrees to working adults through its EXCEL Program.
“The issue of university status came up again as we continued to expand our programs. We’ve added additional graduate and professional programs that are usually associated with universities, for example,” said task force chair Jerry Smith. “We’ve received public recognition for the quality of our academic programs and faculty—our recent accreditation review and the U.S.News rankings, for example—that poise us for a greater vision of what the institution can become. We felt it was time for Huntington to consider a move to university status.”
“I view this as setting a long-term vision for the campus to increase its prestige and broaden its curriculum,” said task force member Kelly Savage, an alumna, trustee, and chief information officer for Alticor, the parent company of Amway, Quixtar, and Access Business Group. “It follows what the president, faculty, and trustees have done to continue to raise the bar for the institution.”
“We believe that we meet the criteria of what it means to be a university,” adds Dr. Lance Clark. “We’ve made great strides.”
Part of a national trend
During its research, the Task Force found that there is a nationwide trend of colleges changing to university. Since 1980, 94 members of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools have adopted university status. Other regional institutions that have adopted university status in the recent past include Saint Francis, Spring Arbor, Bluffton, Anderson, Findlay, Tri-State, and Indiana Wesleyan.
“With many of our peer institutions changing to university status in recent years, I felt this issue was worthy of investigation,” said task force member Gary Dilley, an alumnus, trustee, and director of Global Missions for the United Brethren Church.
The task force noted that of the top 20 institutions with which Huntington College competes for students, 17 are universities.
“In the general public and among prospective students and their parents, universities may be perceived to be more prestigious than colleges,” noted Smith.
Constituents favor the change
The Task Force found that nearly all constituent groups were in favor, and some strongly in favor, of the proposal to become a university. Students, faculty, staff, and members of the Alumni Board, Huntington College Foundation Board, Parents Council, and President’s Advisory Council on Excellence all endorsed the change.
“Over the course of a year, we researched everything—pro and con—very thoroughly,” said Janet Clark, an Alumni Board member and children’s minister at College Park Church. “I contacted the rest of the Alumni Board members, who represent several generations, and all were in favor of the change,” she added. “I thought there would be great opposition when we got past people 30 years old and older, but it was quite the opposite. Alumni of all ages seem to say, ‘If it’s good for the College, I’m for it.’"
Students also backed the idea. “We conducted a survey of Student Senate members last spring, and most of the responses were positive,” said Joanna Shenk, president of Student Senate in 2003-04. “After we discussed the reasons behind the change, the response became even more positive.”
“Many students are excited about having a university degree because it’s deemed more prestigious,” Shenk added. “It’s also better for international students when they return home and for other students planning to work overseas, where a university degree carries more weight.”
Representatives of the local community also supported the change. “Members of the Huntington College Foundation Board provide an extremely good cross-section of the Huntington County business, political, and educational communities,” said Steve Zahn, a past president of the organization. “Overall, the response to the proposed name change has been positive among Foundation members and within the community as a whole. I think the change to university status could have a positive effect on the entire community.”
Taking a step forward
This change does not mark the first time the institution has changed its name. The campus opened in 1897 as Central College, named for its central geographic location within the various conferences of the United Brethren Church. It was not until 1917 that the institution changed its name to Huntington College.
Task force members indicated that as the campus continues to grow and develop, it will remain focused on its heritage and mission.
“We’re taking a step forward,” Lance Clark said. “We’re not going to sacrifice our traditional Christian heritage, our liberal-arts curriculum, or the close relationship between students and faculty. This will still be a very tight community with evangelical Christian values and traditions.”
“It’s important that we continue to emphasize that we are a Christian liberal-arts institution,” said Smith, who served as academic dean for 16 years. “The name is less important than the mission, and our purpose continues to be to provide Christ-centered education.”