On Sunday, Dr. Michael Coulter shared an article about higher ed institutions changing their names. He posted the playful remark: “For GCC alums: Other colleges have changed names. What if GCC renamed itself? [my preferred name: Ketler College] The ‘city’ in GCC makes some think we are a community college.”
What ensued was a lively comment feed where various impassioned alumni opined how GCC grads don’t get the credit they deserve for all of the hard work they put in during their four years at the Grove, how their co-workers assume GCC is an obscure community college, how the administration needed to boost name recognition outside of the homeschool clique–dibs on that as a gang name, by the way–and so on. What also ensued was the rising of my wife’s blood pressure, a loyal Grover if there ever was one, who was struggling to breathe at even the thought of GCC changing its name. Between her murderous threats and controlled breathing exercises, we were able to have an interesting conversation about the college that owns our “pledges of love and honor.”
College vs. University
Small liberal arts colleges are falling on hard times. Many have decided to expand their offerings beyond traditional four-year undergraduate degrees by adding master’s programs, extension campuses, or online school. I get it. Enrollment is down. Money has to come from somewhere. Each year, more of these institutions seek to rebrand themselves with the revolutionary shift in nomenclature from college to university.
What Grove City College realizes is that this shift does not merely mean new mastheads, logos, and signs. The shift from college to university changes the culture of an institution. Adding master’s courses draws students to campus who have jobs and families. Extension campuses decentralize learning, and the education of the institution is necessarily detached from the space and place of campus. The close knit community filled with events, quirky traditions, and idiosyncrasies slowly fades.
I’m not trying to vilify institutions who have made this shift, but we have to realize that if it were to become Grove City University, it would cease to be the institution it once was. Grove City College is a place as much as it is an educational entity. A place with a cultivated culture. These days, an institution with College in its name has kept it that way for a reason. Grove City College is–for right or for wrong, I would argue for right–intentionally cultivating an educational experience that cannot be detached from its local campus. They are intentionally limiting the size of the institution, intentionally marketing to and seeking out specific types of students. They remain a college because they are seeking not only to offer a liberal arts degree, but to cultivate a liberal arts atmosphere (more on that here).
That’s what we all loved so much about Grove City College. That’s why we all love Homecoming so much–because as a college, GCC is as much about a place as it is about an education. We came to love the halls, the dorms, the places where we had special interactions with professors and students. Some people would say GCC is a bubble. I wouldn’t necessarily disagree, but it’s a bubble in the best sense of the word. By remaining a college, GCC is protecting the special four-year educational experience that can only be found amid “the halls, the halls we love.”
On a side note, some institutions are changing their names from college to university, claiming that it helps draw international students. I think we insult the intelligence of these internationals when we assume they can’t grasp that college means something different in America.
Diploma vs. Degree
No one will ever comprehend how hard you worked at GCC. No one will fully understand all of those weekends you spent holed up in your dorm room cramming for that Theory of Stats test or that Organic Chemistry final. You have just got to get over that. My GPA was harpooned by my math classes; I’m sure you had a similar experience in whatever field you studied. No name change or growth in reputation will ever communicate the educational rigor that is a Grove City College degree program.
Here’s the thing. When your boss or future employer sees “B.S., Grove City College” on your resumé, they only see a degree. When I look at that piece of paper hanging in my office, I see a diploma–a diploma that represents four of the best and hardest years of my life. Grove City is not a university degree mill, churning out qualified employees. It is a liberal arts college that prepares individuals to succeed in all areas of life. You don’t hurry through a degree at Grove City. You relish every semester of that four-year diploma.
There is a certain kinship in knowing that only Grovers will ever fully comprehend what we experienced in that snowy corner of Northwest Pennsylvania. Only we know how difficult the classes were, how amazing the campus life really was, how knowledgeable we became, or how prepared we were to be responsible, thoughtful, intelligent adults who contribute to society on every level–not just in the workplace.
Making a Name for Grove City College
The onus falls on us, Alumni. If we want the institution to garner recognition and esteem, it’s going to happen because graduates have left GCC and gone on to become leaders in their fields. It’s going to happen because we have led godly households and trained our children–and sent them to Grove City College (What? A guy can dream right?). It’s going to happen because we have proven our worth, not because we demand to be valued.
For all the complaining about lack of recognition, it never ceases to amaze me how frequently people do recognize Grove City College. I remember meeting the president of Southern Seminary, Albert Mohler, during my first semester there. When I mentioned my alma mater his eyes lit up, and he said, “The guy who manages my radio program is a Grove City graduate! That’s a wonderful place.” That guy, Matthew Hall, is now the V.P. of Academic Services at SBTS. I’ve had people stop me at fast food places in the middle of road trips because they recognized the “Grove City College” splayed across my t-shirt. I had an international student here at Newberry College recognize Grove City College from a research project where he studied the court case from back in the 80s–and he’s from Macedonia!
Grovers are wild cards. No one expects to find a polished, professional, hardworking individual when they interview someone from a small liberal arts school in nowheresville, PA. Shouldn’t we own that identity? Better to exceed expectations. Better to have a chip on your shoulder. Would you rather float through life on the reputation of the name on your degree or succeed because of the maturity, skills, and education you received at that institution?
Grove City College change its name? God forbid.
2 thoughts on “Grove City College: What’s in a Name?”
A very thoughtful and well-written post – exactly what I’d expect from a Grove City grad. My primary concern is about how many 17 year olds (or their parents) from the west or southwest (or Florida where community colleges sometimes have city in the title) who won’t even consider GCC because it is assumed to be a community college. We need to recruit from those areas in the future. If we keep our name, we’ll need to realize we are going to have to overcome that challenge. In other words, we can’t pretend it is not a challenge.
Dr. Coulter, thanks so much for chiming in. I’m sure you have more important things to do than read a blog post by an alum who has been huffing on the fumes of nostalgia a bit too much! I think we are coming at this from two different angles. Your concern is how to engage future students who may miss out on the Grove City experience merely because of the college’s name. This article was geared more toward alumni who mistakenly think a quick name change will somehow give them more clout/prestige in the workplace, etc. My hope would be that in the endeavor to reach students from across the US a name change would be the absolute last resort. I wonder how much location is a factor for students from the West/Deep South. I tried to convince all 3 of my younger siblings to attend, but in the end, the 8 hour distance from home in NC proved insurmountable. I’m sure you guys are much more on top of these issues than I am. My goal was to address alumni and to help us realize that something as seemingly inconsequential as a name change could have big consequences. Blessings to you in PA!
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