Ditching `college' title, Coppin State becomes university

State school follows local, national trend toward prestigious name

April 13, 2004|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

The University System of Maryland loses the last of its "colleges" today, when Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. signs a bill creating Coppin State University.

The dropping of "college" from the West Baltimore school's name was approved unanimously by the General Assembly. It leaves St. Mary's College of Maryland, which operates independently of the university system, as the only public four-year college in Maryland.

"We deserve it," said Coppin President Stanley F. Battle, who has been pressing for the name change since he took office a year ago. "We worked very hard for this. It fulfills the dream of many people here."

Battle said 99 percent of Coppin students, alumni, faculty and staff favored the name change in a survey, and almost 70 percent voted for Coppin State University.

"We're not trying to become another College Park," Battle said. "This move is positioning ourselves for a stronger future."

Coppin, one of Maryland's four historically black colleges, has about 3,700 students this year, including about 500 in graduate programs, according to its annual report to the Maryland Higher Education Commission. Although the school lacks doctoral programs, that does not disqualify it from the university designation, said Battle.

Several other Maryland schools without expansive graduate programs have switched to university status, and since the 1980s there's been a strong movement nationally to replace the less prestigious "college" with "university" in school titles.

Nearly 200 colleges have made the switch in the past 10 years. Ten have changed names so far in 2004, according to Higher Education Publications Inc. in Falls Church, Va.

"Coming into a university instead of a college makes a difference, and going on to graduate school from a university also makes a difference," said Battle. "One brags about it."

Unlike several other states, including neighboring Pennsylvania, Maryland has no specific standards - such as library holdings, doctoral programs and faculty qualifications - for a higher-education institution to be worthy of the university appellation. Changing a title is a matter of convincing the General Assembly, and Coppin, with the help of Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, gathered 180 votes in favor and none against.

Over the years, the assembly has approved similar legislation for Frostburg, Salisbury, Bowie, Towson and Morgan state universities.

Nationally, many private colleges like Dartmouth and a few public schools like the College of William and Mary in Virginia have resisted the university juggernaut, even though in some cases they operate law and medical schools.

One official disappointed with the Coppin change was Calvin W. Burnett, interim state secretary of higher education who retired last year from the Coppin presidency after 32 1/2 years. As president, Burnett had opposed the change.

"I'm not criticizing anyone or any university," Burnett said yesterday, "and I know my commission endorsed this, so I'm only speaking for myself. But I always thought one of the distinctions of Coppin was its name. Under the classical definition of a university, we only have a few in Maryland - College Park, UMAB [University of Maryland, Baltimore], Johns Hopkins and to some extent UMBC [University of Maryland, Baltimore County]. For everybody else, it's cosmetic."

Coppin began in 1900 as a one-year teachers college at the old Douglass High School on Pennsylvania Avenue. In the 1960s it expanded its offerings beyond teacher education and began offering bachelor's degrees. The school became a part of the university system in 1988.

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