June 2, 2009
Marshall University Doctoral Student’s Award-Winning Research Explores ‘College-to-University’ Name Changes
Special to Huntingtonnews.net
Huntington, WV (HNN) – Award-winning research by a Marshall University doctoral student shows that from 1996 to 2005, West Virginia had the largest percentage of “college-to-university” rebrandings of any state or U.S. territory.
“Survival of the Fittest? The Rebranding of Higher Education in West Virginia” explores the name-change phenomenon in the Mountain State. The findings, by Dr. James M. Owston, a 2007 graduate of Marshall University’s Leadership Studies program, have garnered both national and international praise.
“A recurring reason for the name-change phenomenon was to gain notoriety and prestige and to increase the number of students in attendance as well as to raise money more easily,” said Owston. “What I discovered is that although some schools did have terrific growth after changing their brands, most did not. In most cases, enrollment slowed and, while the schools still experienced a yearly growth in enrollment, the rate of growth that they experienced was certainly not as great as they had before the name change.”
“By and far, changing names was not the panacea the institutions thought it was going to be,” said Owston, who is Senior Academic Officer for Instructional Technology for Mountain State University in Beckley, WV. MSU was formerly The College of West Virginia. It underwent a name change in 2001.
His adviser at Marshall, Dr. Barbara Nicholson, nominated Owston’s work for the 2009 Alice L. Beeman Dissertation Award for Outstanding Research in Communications and Marketing for Educational Advancement from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education as well as the 2008 Leo and Margaret Goodman-Malamuth Outstanding Dissertation Award for Research in Higher Education Administration from the American Association of University Administrators. “Survival of the Fittest” came away with top honors both times.
“I've worked with doctoral students for 18 years now, but have never nominated a dissertation for national consideration,” Nicholson said. “Jim’s work was different though, primarily because of its unique format. It also focused on a subject that’s both contemporary and relevant in higher education, so I thought it had an excellent chance of being recognized.”
Owston’s research is nationwide in scope, but the focus is on West Virginia, including those institutions that have undergone names changes including:
  • 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 recent transition to West Liberty University in 2009
For more information or to read the dissertation in its entirety, go to http://www.newriver.net/.
The Marshall University Leadership Studies program is offered on the South Charleston campus.

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