Name change is paying off

EDUCATION BEAT

McDaniel: The school formerly known as Western Maryland College is growing under its new moniker.

January 21, 2004|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

IT'S BEEN 18 months since Western Maryland College became McDaniel College, and I no longer think of the two in the same mental breath.

By that I mean that in my mind the Westminster liberal arts college is automatically McDaniel now. I no longer think of it as Western Maryland with a new name. And that's exactly what the college wants. It's midway through a second yearlong campaign of radio spots and newspaper ads designed to brand McDaniel on all of our minds.

The campaign is succeeding, said Joyce Muller, the college's associate vice president for communications and marketing. Surveys show that people exposed to the ads remember their content and, more important, remember they were brought to us by McDaniel College.

The ads and spots are clever. Even the version shortened for "sponsorship" on public radio evokes the Halls of Ivy. In a typical longer version I've heard on WBAL, Joan Develin Coley, the president, speaks of the "close-knit community" at McDaniel, where professors stop to chat with students in the quad, where students are "involved, connected, confident," where they "question, imagine, think for themselves."

The announcer concludes: "McDaniel College. Changing lives since 1867."

Clever, too, that McDaniel is "advertising" (actually buying sponsorships) on public radio in Baltimore and Washington. Just yesterday, James I. Melhorn, chairman of the school's trustees, said he was having breakfast at Harbor Court, where he lives, when an out-of-town visitor mentioned he had heard a McDaniel spot on his hotel room radio. Intellectuals and people with the means to support McDaniel - or send their children there - are more likely to listen to the likes of WYPR or WBJC than to a country music station.

Named for a railroad in 1867, Western Maryland College had a long-standing nomenclature problem. To explain what it was, it had to explain what it was not. It was not a public college, nor was it in Western Maryland. Robert H. Chambers, the 16-year president who preceded Coley, set the name-change wheels in motion. When he interviewed Melhorn for a board position in 1993, Chambers warned him to prepare for a battle.

A battle it was. Many are still unhappy with the change. Some have cut the school out of their annual giving and their wills. Others are stubbornly writing checks to Western Maryland. (McDaniel is only too happy to deposit them.)

But there is evidence that a gutsy move is paying off. Last year's enrollment grew by 3.3 percent to 1,695, the largest undergraduate population in the school's history. Applications increased 23 percent. And early this month, Fitch Ratings affirmed McDaniel's A- bond rating and said the "rating outlook remains stable."

Muller said McDaniel is being invited to college fairs that had snubbed Western Maryland, and more private school graduates are applying, now that it's understood nearly everywhere that McDaniel is an independent liberal arts college in the Baltimore suburbs.

A few months after McDaniel came into being, Beaver College in suburban Philadelphia changed its name to Arcadia University. Western Maryland thought it had a name problem? The 147-year-old Beaver had become talk-show fodder.

Western Maryland could have become Arcadia. The name was one of more than 400 tossed about in the school's exercise in nomenclature, but Melhorn said Arcadia became an example of a "contrived name or place." After all those years as Western Maryland, Melhorn said, he wanted a name with no geographic connotation. No place, even a mythical place, no how! The college opted for the name of a former student, professor, acting president and trustee.

Muller, meanwhile, said she discourages her husband, Harvey, from making public appearances in Western Maryland garb. "It's not helping awareness, hon," she said.

School headquarters resembling a ghost town

It's hard to see how Baltimore schools chief Bonnie S. Copeland can make more personnel cuts at North Avenue school headquarters. After more than 300 layoffs, the place is a ghost town, with desk after desk, cubicle after cubicle, dark and deserted. Computer screens are blank. Half-filled cardboard boxes are strewn about.

The emptiness is especially noticeable on the third floor, which used to house the central office instruction and curriculum staff. If there was bloat there three months ago, it's no longer visible.

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