What’s in a name?

Mount Royal University, and Grant MacEwan University – a year later.

A rose, is a rose, is a rose, is a rose.

– Gertrude Stein

September 3rd is the first year anniversary of Mount Royal University. For many, it is the celebration of a coming of age for both Mount Royal University and Grant MacEwan University – which was named shortly after Mount Royal.

For many involved in Alberta’s post-secondary environment, it makes the changes that had been occurring over the last five years very visible, and very permanent.

Rob Jones, president of the MRU Student Association, believes that the name change signified, “that what was happening here at Mount Royal was being recognized by the external community. People taking notice of what was going on here on campus.”

MacEwan’s student community echoes those sentiments. With just over half of MacEwan’s student population currently enrolled in degree programs for the 2010-2011 academic year, the addition of “university” didn’t change the outcome of their education, but did validate the academic efforts of their chosen institution.

The reality is, over the past decade the Alberta PSE system saw an increased number of transfer students between collage and university degree programs, an increased demand for transfer programs, and for post diploma degree programs. Explains Carol Nueman, the Executive Director of ASEC, an organization counting MacEwan, and MRU among their large membership that, “there has been a name change, of Grant MacEwan University and MRU, but it is the tip of the iceberg as far as the much, much larger change that has occurred in Alberta.”

The past year has only served to prove the validity of the government’s assertions prior to and following the announcement: that the change in name did not a mean a change in any other way. These two new universities are still funded in the same way, and continue to implement programming as per their six-sector mandate: a focus on learning delivery and not research.

What did change, according to both Rob Jones, and the MacEwan Student Association Vice-President Academic, John-Paul Hermano, is the community of these two schools.

Hermano sees the positive impact the name change has had on community spirit at MacEwan through his work as a student representative. “We’re finding out with the SA that we’re able to engage students more. Its become even more prevalent that students are getting more involved in their school,” he commented to Vue.

Hermano has seen the institution grow since the name change came about, with students more optimistic about their opportunities at MacEwen. Hermano says that the university has seen an increase in the number of students choosing to stay, rather than transfer out. The university is also seeing alumni return to obtain full degrees in their field of study.

Jones relayed that MRU is experiencing a similar sense of optimism among their students.

The change of name should to be more than just a brand re-visioning, or a rubber stamp over an existing logo. For the students of Mount Royal and MacEwan, the sense of community that has grown as a result, is proof of the positive effects.

Will this be enough though, as both institutions are looking to grow in their capabilities and as students are looking for a full university experience, complete with research opportunities.

Hermano told Vue that MacEwan students are already looking for more undergraduate research opportunities. “MacEwan has over 40 students engaging in research, and I know that the institution itself is looking for ways to go about increasing that,” he commented.

As only a year has passed, the true effect of these changes won’t be seen until students who entered into degree programs at the two institutions graduate with those degrees. It is then that the university name will have something to prove.

Originally published in Vue Weekly’s Education 2010 special section – August 2010

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