Survival of the Fittest? The Rebranding of West Virginia Higher Education by James M. Owston, EdD. Winner of the 2009 Alice L. Beeman Dissertation Award for Outstanding Research in Communications and Marketing in Educational Advancement and the 2008 Leo and Margaret Goodman-Malamuth Outstanding Dissertation for Research in Higher Education Administration

Did you know?

From 1996 to 2005, West Virginia's regionally accredited colleges and universities had the highest (56.25%) proportion of institutional transformations in the United States.

During that same period, West Virginia had the highest (25%) proportion of "college-to-university" rebrandings than any other US state or territory.

West Virginia has more regionally accredited institutions per capita (1 for every 60,600 residents) than any of its five bordering states (Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kentucky). Because of this over saturation, West Virginia's colleges and universities often compete for the same students and resources. Rebranding has been one of the tactics employed by certain institutions as a method for survival.

Overview of the DissertationDissertation Proper
Info on the 2008 Goodman-Malamuth AwardInfo on the 2009 Alice L. Beeman Award
Other News items about the AuthorAuthor's Curriculum Vitae

Survival of the Fittest?
The Rebranding of West Virginia Higher Education
by James M. Owston, Ed.D.

International winner of the 2009 Alice L. Beeman Dissertation Award
for Outstanding Research in Communications and Marketing for Educational Advancement
from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE)

National winner of the 2008 Leo and Margaret Goodman-Malamuth Outstanding Dissertation Award
for Research in Higher Education Administration
from the American Association of University Administrators (AAUA)

This site provides linkage to the internationally recognized dissertation dealing with the phenomenon of "college-to-university" name changes. The dissertation was successfully defended by James M. Owston on November 19, 2007, and subsequently Marshall University in Huntington, WV awarded Owston the degree of Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) on December 11, 2007.

The dissertation was a mixed method study with an atypical design. It is included here in its entirety as well as separated by chapter. While the dissertation focuses on West Virginia institutions, data and examples from over 160 institutions across the US were used throughout the dissertation. Additionally, Chapter 9 focuses on brand similarity issues at six schools located in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Ohio.

The rebranding of 13 Georgia institutions in 1996 was explored in great detail. While Georgia's situation is somewhat unique, the universities' collective experiences provided powerful illustrations of what could go wrong in the process of transitioning from a college to a university. Additionally, the separation of the West Virginia component community colleges from their parent four-year institutions greatly influenced "college-to-university" changes in West Virginia. This topic was also visited in a number of contexts.

The focused West Virginia institutions include the following rebrandings:

  • Morris Harvey College to The University of Charleston in 1979
  • Salem College to Salem Teikyo University in 1989 (rebranded as Salem International University in 2000)
  • Wheeling Jesuit College to Wheeling Jesuit University in 1996
  • West Virginia Institute of Technology to West Virginia University Institute of Technology in 1996
  • The College of West Virginia to Mountain State University in 2001
  • Concord College to Concord University in 2004
  • Fairmont State College to Fairmont State University in 2004
  • Shepherd College to Shepherd University in 2004
  • West Virginia State College to West Virginia State University in 2004
  • Ohio Valley College to Ohio Valley University in 2005
  • West Liberty State College's plans to transition to West Liberty University in 2009

You may access the dissertation through the links below:

Complete Dissertation: This link provides the complete version of the dissertation. Because of its length, you may wish to download the dissertation by section.

Front Matter: This section includes the abstract, dedication, acknowledgements, table of contents, list of figures, and the list of tables.

Chapter One: Rebranding — An Introduction. The introductory chapter is equivalent to the first three chapters of a standard dissertation and contains introductory remarks, a literature review, and the study's methods. Within this chapter there are brief histories of all of the West Virginia institutions that have changed names since 1976. Possible reasons for rebranding are briefly discussed as well.

Chapter Two: Rationale for a "College-to-University" Change. This chapter explores the reasons schools made the change. A primary focus is a comparison to Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Schools in WV are looked at rebranding as a means to fulfill survival, security, and status needs. Additional reasons are also addressed in this chapter.

Chapter Three: Realizing the "College-to-University" Change. This section concentrates on the processes involved in transitioning from a college to a university and focuses on structure, name choice, mascot and color changes, time frame, and funding. The funding section provides a subsection on the help Senator Robert C. Byrd has provided certain institutions with appropriation dollars.

Chapter Four: Regulatory Bodies and the "College-to-University" Change. Two foci are presented in Chapter Four — legislative involvement and degree approval agencies.

Chapter Five: Reactions to the "College-to-University" Change. Stakeholder reactions are presented in Chapter Five and include an analysis of the reactions of students, institutional boards, administration, the community at large, faculty, alumni, former employees, and other institutions.

Chapter Six: Recruitment and the "College-to-University" Change. This chapter analyzed the effect of the change upon enrollment. Several independent variables that affected enrollment are also explored. These include the switch from a quarter system to a semester system in Georgia and the community college separation in West Virginia.

Chapter Seven: Reputation and the "College-to-University" Change. Several indicators of prestige are addressed in Chapter Seven. These include Carnegie Classifications, an increased focus of graduate programs, tuition, undergraduate selectivity, and the perception that the school had greater prestige and had attained and exhibited the "culture of a university."

Chapter Eight: Revisiting the "College-to-University" Change. Administrators reflect upon what processes they would do differently if they had the opportunity to revisit the name change.

Chapter Nine Retaining an Institutional Brand: A Case Study Of The Allegheny Brand. This chapter explores the usage of the Allegheny brand in higher education. Ten institutions are discussed in this chapter including the following historical cases: Allegheny Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh (1825-1914), Alleghany College in Blue Sulphur Springs, VA (now WV) (1859-1861), Alleghany Collegiate Institute in Alderson, WV (1888-1925), and Alleghany Collegiate Institute in Sparta, NC. The primary focus of the chapter is the branding struggles of Allegheny College in Meadville, PA with institutions using the Allegheny brand. Focused schools include the Community College of Allegheny County, Allegany College of Maryland, Allegheny University of Health Sciences, Penn State Greater Allegheny, and Allegheny Wesleyan College. Allegheny College's brand dominance is charted in the chapter's final section. While the entire dissertation centers around West Virginia schools, there were no schools in the state that exhibited the brand protection and sheer brand dominance as did Allegheny College in Meadville, PA. Their struggles with other institutions provides the greater context of this chapter.

Chapter Ten: Results and Recommendations - A Conclusion. The final chapter is a summary of the entire dissertation, results of the study, limitations experienced, the implications of the study, and recommendations for further study.


Appendices & Curriculum Vitae.

Additional Related Resources:

Internet Branding: Educause and the Domain Names System. This section was eliminated from Chapter 4 of the final dissertation and includes information on the history of the domain system, the impact of EDUCAUSE and the .edu top-level domain, and the usage of the .edu domain in West Virginia. Appendix A contains a listing of all past and present .edu domains used in West Virginia. References are included.

Mountains of Alleghenies: A Comprehensive Look at the Non Educational Usage of the Allegheny Brand. This section was eliminated from Chapter 9 of the final dissertation and includes an examination of the pervasive use of the Allegheny name in the United States. References are included.

Blog dealing with College and University Rebranding

Documents and Media relating to the Doctorate and the Outstanding Dissertation Awards:

Defense - November 19, 2007 at Marshall University Graduate College

Power Point Presentation. The slide show used in the defense.

Photos from the Defense.

Congratulatory message from Dr. Charles H. Polk, President at Mountain State University, on the completion of the doctorate; November 26, 2007

Graduation Ceremony - May 10, 2008; Marshall University's 171st Commencement

One of 10 students honored by Dr. Stephen J. Kopp, President of Marshall University | Windows Media video | Quick Time video | Real video | MP3 audio | PDF file |

Owston being hooded by his dissertation chair Dr. Barbara L. Nicholson of Marshall University Graduate College | Windows Media video | Quick Time video | Real video |

Photos relating to the graduation ceremony

2008 Leo and Margaret Goodman-Malamuth Outstanding Dissertation Award for Research in Higher Education from the American Association of University Administrators

Background on the award from the AAUA

Owston's Notification of Receiving the AAUA Award, April 29, 2008

Congratulatory message from Dr. Charles H. Polk, President at Mountain State University, on winning the award; April 30, 2008

Recognition by Dr. Stephen J. Kopp, President of Marshall University; May 10, 2008: | Windows Media video | Quick Time video | Real video | MP3 Audio | PDF file |

Mountain State University press release; May 18, 2008

Former North Versailles resident earns doctorate and wins national award - The Daily News; McKeesport, PA; June 30, 2008

MSU Professor Honored - Register-Herald news story; July 9, 2008

Congratulatory Letter to Owston from U.S. Congressman Nick Joe Rahall

Congratulatory Letter to Owston's mother from Pennsylvania State Senator Sean Logan

Power Point Presentation used at the AAUA Award Ceremony; June 27, 2008

Photos from the AAUA award ceremony; June 27, 2008

Letter to dissertation chair Dr. Bobbi Nicholson from Dr. Jerome L. Neuner, AAUA Awards Chair

AAUA Award Recipients since 2002

2009 Alice L. Beeman Dissertation Award for Outstanding Research in Communications and Marketing for Educational Advancement from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education

Background on the award from CASE

Eligibility requirements from CASE

Owston's application for the Beeman award

CASE's notification email to Owston that he won the Beeman award; May 14, 2009

Press Release from CASE; May 19, 2009

Congratulatory email from Dr. Charles H. Polk, President at Mountain State University, on winning the Alice L. Beeman Award; May 26, 2009

Award winning research at MUThe Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, WV; May 27, 2009

Mountain State University press release; May 27, 2009

Marshall University press release; June 1, 2009

Media Outlets that picked up the Marshall University press release:
The State Journal (WV statewide release)
WOWK-TV 13, Huntington, WV
WVNS-TV 59, Beckley, WV
WBOY-TV 12, Clarksburg, WV
WTRF-TV 7, Wheeling, WV, Huntington, WV
Huntington (WV) The Herald-Dispatch; June 6, 2009
WV Higher Education Policy Commission's news clippings, June 7, 2009

Associated Press story: "Marshall study: Rebranding doesn't help colleges"

NOTE: This is an oversimplification of the study's results. While the data suggested that enrollment slows following a college-to-university name change, there were positive prestige indicators present upon this change. The study dealt with several variables and not only enrollment trends. Additionally, other independent variables may have contributed to the slowed growth at these institutions following the name change.

Media outlets that picked up this story:
Charleston (WV) Gazette; June 2, 2009
Charleston (WV) Daily Mail; June 2, 2009
Education Week; June 2, 2009
WVVA-TV 6, Bluefield, WV; June 2, 2009
Ironton (OH) Tribune; June 3, 2009
WCHS-TV 8, Charleston, WV; June 3, 2009
Daily News Record (Harrisonburg, VA); June 3, 2009
The Chesapeake (OH) Tribune; June 3, 2009

Colleges May Play the Name-Change Game at Their Peril, Dissertation Says; The Chronicle of Higher Education; June 3, 2009

News in Brief; The Christian Standard; June 5, 2009

BriefCase; Register-Herald, Beckley, WV; June 7, 2009

University Status Doesn't Increase Enrollment; West Virginia Public Radio; June 9, 2009

MP3 Audio File

Featured on Dr. Ray Brown's College History Garden blog; June 10, 2009;

Dr. Brown's "List of Colleges and Universities that have Closed, Merged, or Changed their Names" was used as a reference for the dissertation.

Marshall Student Wins Awards for Research on 'College-to-University' Name Change; The State Journal; June 12, 2009

NOTE: While this is a well written article and the media coverage is much appreciated, there are several points needing clarification:

   1. The statement that "56% of West Virginia higher education institutions changed from college to university between 1996 to 2005" was not correct. Fifty-six percent of West Virginia's regionally accredited higher educational institutions experienced a major institutional transformation from 1996 to 2005. This percentage was the highest proportion of similar transformations in any US state or territory during the period.
   2. The statement "eight schools during that period accounted for 25 percent of regionally accredited schools that underwent name changes" is misleading. A correct statement would indicate that eight schools in West Virginia underwent a "college-to-university" name change during the period - this represented 25% of the regionally accredited institutions in West Virginia; this proportion was highest percentage of "college-to-university" changes occurring in any US state or territory from 1996 to 2005.
   3. I was slightly misquoted with the statement, "As I was working through this, our institution (Mountain State University) had gone through two name changes." What I said was, "Since I began working for MSU, our institution had gone through two name changes." I had not started researching this topic until 2002; Beckley College became The College of West Virginia in 1991 and CWV transformed into MSU in 2001. I began teaching at Beckley College in July 1991 - three months prior to its first name change.
   4. The assertion that "He was the first to compile data on college-to-university name changes" is not correct. I believe that Dr. Christopher C. Morphew was the first to conduct research on this subject. Several other researches studied this phenomenon at single institutions. I was the first to study this topic from the perspective of a distinct geographical region.

People Section; The State Journal; June 19, 2009

Alice L. Beeman Award Recipients since 2002

Awards; The Chronicle of Phlianthropy; July 2, 2009 (see bottom of page)

Program from CASE's Summit09 in San Francisco, July 9-11, 2009

Letters from Congressman Nick Joe Rahall, II: recognizing the research (dated July 2, 2009) and congratualations for winning the Alice L. Beeman award (dated July 15, 2009)

"We Are Marshall Today" TV News Story
| Windows Media | Flash Video | Quick Time | AVI Video | Real Media | MP4 |

Photos receiving the award on July 16, 2009

Mention in CASE's Currents magazine, September 2009 issue, page 51

MSU's Owston Honored for Dissertation. Register-Herald, September 21, 2009

Other News Items about the Author

Announcement from Dr. Charles H. Polk naming Owston the Dean of Online and Individualized Learning at Mountain State University; dated August 28, 2009

Briefcase: Dean appointment. Register-Herald, September 6, 2009

Briefcase: U.S. News & World Report interview. Register-Herald, September 13, 2009

U.S. News and World Report: — Colleges Play the Name Game by Kim Clark; September 17, 2009

I address some of the issues in the above article regarding the Mountain State University name in my blog on institutional rebranding

People: Dean appointment. The State Journal, October 2, 2009

Survival of the fittest? The re-branding of West Virginia higher education. International Journal of Educational Advancement (2009) 9, 126�146. doi:10.1057/ijea.2009.37

The name really is the thing. A commentarary by Ken Herman of the Austin American-Statesman. January 1, 2011. My work is mentioned and I am quoted in this piece.

©2007-2019 James Martin Owston. Short portions of this document may be quoted without permission, although the author would like to know how you used this information in your research. Larger portions will require permission. Email Owston with any comments at He is available to answer any questions regarding the research and writing of this dissertation. Thanks for visiting.


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