HUNTINGTON -- Award-winning
research by a Marshall University doctoral student shows that from 1996
to 2001, 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, W.Va. 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
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.