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Claudia Limbert: A thoughtful, deliberate naming process

 

Claudia Limbert

 

As many of you know, MUW is in the process of finding a new name. The process has been thoughtful and transparent, and all the documents relating to it are on our Web site. 

 

Our name was an issue when we went co-ed 27 years ago and was a topic upon my arrival at MUW when a new study indicated the University had a serious identity crisis. After a careful review, we improved our marketing efforts. The result is that we have added 300 students in the past seven years -- going from 2,100 to 2,400 students and, last year, we spent 13 percent of our general budget on enrollment management, the same as USM but more than all the IHL institutions. 

 

But 2,400 students are not enough in the face of decreased state appropriations and the enrollment-based funding model. We need about 4,500 students, which we can accommodate both on campus and online. 

 

Those who say we can grow significantly with our current name cannot rebut the evidence that only 3 percent of women nationally say they would consider a women''s only college, which is how we are perceived because of our name. This fact explains why in 1960 there were more than 300 women''s colleges and today there are less than 60. 

 

Others claim there is no evidence that changing a university''s name results in an enrollment increase, but they should consider three examples. The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the University of Montevallo, and Georgia College and State University all began as women''s colleges shortly after MUW was founded with MUW as their model. All three have succeeded after removing the word "women" from their name.  

 

Other opponents of a name change point to Texas Women''s University with an enrollment of slightly more than 11,000 students. A fine university, TWU is located in one of the most populous states in the nation and 30 miles from one of the largest cities in America. Based on the population bases from which the two universities have to draw, MUW is actually outperforming TWU in enrollment. 

 

In October 2007, we began "MUW 20/20" with a cross-section of the MUW family considering our future. At each stage, our name -- and the challenges created by it -- were raised. Here is a sample of the conclusions reached about our name during this process: 

 

"There is strong support for clarifying MUW''s identity, including exploring changing the name so that it reflects who the University is today." 

 

"Many constituents recommended that a name change be explored and seriously considered in order to increase enrollment." 

 

"The 20/20 scanning process overwhelmingly showed that the name of the institution must be re-examined." 

 

"(A) name change is warranted (because) the name ... impedes the success of communicating the true identity of the University and, therefore, future student recruitment efforts." 

 

In August 2008, we went forward to seek a new name (which will be our fourth) and charged a Naming Committee of about 30 people from on- and off-campus to find three names to be market-tested. This Committee''s meetings were open to the public and the media. In fact, a member of the media serves on this Committee. The Naming Committee developed an online process resulting in more than 180 names or combinations of names being submitted. After much deliberation, the Committee recommended three names for testing: Reneau, Waverley, and Welty-Reneau. 

 

The three names were test-marketed by The Cirlot Agency, the marketing, public relations, and corporate communications firm hired to assist the University. The research included more than 2,000 people and used an online survey for faculty, staff, current students, and anyone else who wished to provide input. A second online survey was sent to prospective students, and there were 10 focus groups of prospective students in different parts of the state. 

 

The surveys revealed that Waverley University (43%) came out as a slight overall favorite over Reneau (33%) and Welty-Reneau (24%). The research showed that a significant number of participants did not like the hyphenated name and that they preferred Welty as a stand-alone name. 

 

Additionally, because Reneau was a part of two name choices, Waverley may well have been a default choice for those who did not like the Reneau name. Conversely, for those who preferred the Reneau name, there were two options; thus, the Reneau preferences may have been split. After the presentation, several Committee members suggested that Welty should be researched as a stand-alone name. 

 

We are getting closer to the right name for us, but we are not going to rush this process, because we know that doing this right is more important than doing this quickly.  

 

Everything will be taken into consideration as we continue to move deliberately and thoughtfully through this process. 

 

MUW is a wonderful place with an unmatched history. In 100 years, I believe those who love this University will say that, like others before us, we in our time and with our actions honored her by ensuring her survival. 

 

Claudia Limbert is president of Mississippi University for Women.

 

 

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