The College of Notre Dame of Maryland will be changing its designation to "university," which school officials say will bring the name in line with the institution's broadening scope.
"In terms of our brand identity, we needed to do a clarification of what we are," said P.J. Mitchell, chair of the board of trustees. "This will allow us to more clearly articulate the breadth and depth of what we offer."
The board voted in May to move forward with the change and will work on a timeline and the exact wording of the new name at its next meeting in October.
Notre Dame has been a small women's college for most of its history and remains so at the undergraduate level. But it now comprises three schools, two of which, the schools of education and pharmacy, offer doctoral-level degrees. This year, Notre Dame handed out as many graduate degrees, about 400, as undergraduate degrees.
"We have become an increasingly complex institution and the name should reflect that," said Notre Dame President Mary Pat Seurkamp.
Micah Yousefi, a Harford County native who graduated from Notre Dame last month, said the change will be attractive to prospective students. "It portrays the school a lot more the way it wants to be seen," she said. "It tells the student there's going to be a little more depth."
Two chief reservations emerged when the college held discussion sessions and conference calls with alumni before the board voted on the change. Some graduates worried that Notre Dame would lose its identity as an intimate college for women. Others said the change could lead to more people confusing Notre Dame with the larger and more famous University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
During a lively Facebook debate, Notre Dame graduate Stacey Rodriguez wrote, "I definitely would prefer to keep the historic name. I can't tell you how many times people have told me we have a great football team when they find out where I went to school. Even with 'College' there's confusion, adding 'University' would just make it worse in my opinion."
"Keep the name as it is," added fellow graduate Judy Swierczewski. "It is more representative of the small school vibe that I liked so much."
Mitchell said she often talks to people who confuse Notre Dame with its larger peer in South Bend. "They ask, 'Oh, do you go to the football games?' " she said with a laugh. "That's not a reason not to move forward if we think this is the right thing to do."
Mitchell and Seurkamp said Notre Dame has plans to grow, especially on the graduate side, but will not run away from its history as a close-knit women's college.
"We will maintain that small institutional touch and feel," Mitchell said. "We can change our designation without compromising that. We've already changed without losing it."
Seurkamp said 75 percent of responses from graduates and current students were positive about the change. "The feeling seems to be that it's already what we are, so the name might as well reflect that," the president said.
Maryland has seen a rash of college name changes in the past two decades. Coppin and Stevenson became universities. Towson and Salisbury dropped "State." Stevenson and McDaniel changed their names entirely.
Seurkamp said Notre Dame's study of schools that have made the change showed that a rise in applications might follow. "Increased enrollment would be a good outcome for us, but it's not the primary driver," she said.
"If a brand has absolute clarity," Mitchell said, "you do attract people who might not have understood what you were before."