The name's the game

Identity crisis: Western Maryland College fears its location, status confused by current appellation.

January 22, 2002

A GOOD name is better than great riches. So counsels the Book of Proverbs.

Western Maryland College is hoping for more: a good name that will lead to greater riches.

The 135-year-old private liberal arts college has hired a Chicago consulting firm to come up with a new name to better describe the Westminster institution, its mission and particularly its location.

The school is not in Western Maryland, but barely 30 miles from Baltimore in Carroll County. Its name comes from the defunct Western Maryland Railroad, whose president was an early college benefactor. The name also suggests a state-supported college rather than a private institution.

Western Maryland College intends to keep "college" in its new name, despite the fact that it awards more graduate than undergraduate degrees each year. Many U.S. schools that change their names do so to elevate their status to a "university."

What they're doing makes sense. Branding and marketing matter in a society dominated by fast-moving images and associations. Academic institutions in particular have relied on Madison Avenue-style tactics to win the day in recruiting students and faculty, landing research grants and attracting business support.

Western Maryland College is not acting out of desperation.

It has an enrollment of 1,600 undergrads and 3,000 part-time graduate students. It has completed a successful $41 million fund-raising campaign. The Green Terror football team is a Division III power, unhindered in its recruiting.

So the geographic misnomer is hardly fatal. But changing it will help set the record straight.

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