Re-Branding Notre Dame: Name Changes and More

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Big changes are brewing at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland.

Mary Pat Suerkamp, long-time president of the school, announced her plans to step down after the 2011-12 academic year. Suerkamp oversaw the school for fifteen years — eons in the lifespan of college presidents. Over the course of that decade and a half, she oversaw a record fundraising campaign, and expanded the school’s offerings to include a handful of doctoral programs.

Suerkamp’s departure will come on the heels of another big change for Notre Dame:  as of September 9, the school will officially be known as Notre Dame of Maryland University. This re-naming is part of a larger re-branding campaign that’s aimed at getting the school’s “complex” character in front of the public eye.

As P.J. Mitchell, chair of the board of trustees, told the Baltimore Sun,  “One of the things we wanted to do was bring clarity to the brand,” she said. “People weren’t sure who we were because all they heard about was the women’s college.”

Notre Dame has always faced a bit of an uphill battle in terms of branding. For one, it shares a name with a better-known institution famous for its sports teams; our ND, in contrast, is a liberal arts college with an overwhelmingly female student body. But it’s just that reputation — for smallness, for being women-only — that the re-naming is supposed to shake up. The switch from “College of…” to “University” status is meant to highlight the school’s growing graduate programs, including newly minted — and co-ed — doctoral programs in education and pharmacy.  (There’s also the added benefit of getting rid of the current nomenclature’s awkward acronym, but no one’s putting that in any press releases.)

If all this rings a bell, that’s probably because several other educational institutions have similarly redefined themselves in recent years — Loyola College became Loyola University Maryland in 2009, and Villa Julie College switched to Stevenson University the previous year.

The Washington Post points out that market researchers have found that students think “university” sounds more prestigious than “college.” Can a name change and brand overhaul alter the way a school is perceived? We’ll keep an eye on Notre Dame to find out.

 

Photo courtesy Flickr user psalakanthos



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