What's in a name? For the newly minted Metropolitan State University of Denver, about six years of research and discussion, thousands of surveys, numerous focus groups and $95,000. That's a portion of what went into a name change from Metropolitan State College of Denver that was made official yesterday when Governor John Hickenlooper signed a senate bill on campus. School administrators hope the name change will add value to degrees and clear up confusion about Metro State.
While only one word in the institution's name will change, the process was not a fast or hasty one. The wheels first started turning in 2006, when Metro State hired Sector Brands to perform a brand audit. And it wasn't the only one.
"What led to us seeking a name change was both brand audits in 2006 and 2009. And then a follow-up survey in 2010 said we had many alums who would go out for job interviews and Metropolitan State College would be on their resume and the employer would say, 'You went to community college, so you just have a two-year degree,'" says Cathy Lucas, Metro's associate vice president for communications and advancement. "They would have to explain that Metro State was a four-year degree. That's really what led to the conversation for the name change."
The school's board of trustees started having strategic conversations about a name change in 2009. Lucas says the school paid Sector a total of $75,000 for the two brand audits and research in 2010 and 2011 that included surveys of 9,700 people, focus groups and community outreach. The headline of Sector's detailed research was that Metro State was seen as a community college and that its degrees were less valuable than other institutions.
Sector identified key terms such as "University," "Denver" and "State," for the new name. In March 2011, the school's Board of Trustees voted 5-2 for Denver State University. But the University of Denver felt that was too close to its name. Lucas says the Board of Trustees then decided to pull that name from available options.
Around this time, Metro State hired Corona Insights to perform another round of surveys and research for an additional $20,000, bringing the total cost of brand assessment and name change to $95,000 over four years.
"The two brand audits came from our marketing budget," says Lucas. "I wouldn't really call that 'name change.' Those were just marketing research tools that led to the discussion. So the actual name change would be $50,000 in research and that all came from what's called indirect cost recovery funds. Indirect cost recovery funds are from grants and contracts that we receive and we get a percentage we can allocate for special projects, but no taxpayer dollars were utilized for the name change."
Lucas says no student fees were used to pay for brand audits or name change efforts, either.
The school realized, partially through push-back from staff, that keeping "Metropolitan" as part of the name was important to its heritage. This fall, the school ignored Westword's suggestions and surveyed several different variations that included, in some order, "Metropolitan," "Denver," "University," and "State."
"Hands down, we continued to see Metropolitan State University of Denver was the number one choice," says Lucas.
All told, Lucas estimates the school surveyed about 15,000 people and performed fifty to sixty focus groups. While it might seem like a lot of work to change one word, Lucas doesn't view it that simply.
"I think it's a celebration," she says. "We've had a lot of community output. We've had a lot of student and alum output and it's a significant change and a historical change. A lot of work went into it, but we will reap some wonderful results from it."
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Lucas says the school is informally branding the school "Metro State Denver" and that the school's logo will stay the same. Even though the bill was signed into law yesterday, the change will become official July 1. Lucas says the school will change its letterhead and seal, but business cards will be the only new cost. After all, most letterhead is now electronic and there is minimal signage on the campus Metro State shares with the University of Colorado Denver and Community College of Denver.
"Our overall goal is it will enhance the quality of the degree," Lucas says. "Our alums can go now and have the 'University' on their diploma, so an employer will understand that we're a four-year institution. The first-generation college students that come to Metro, they will know they are going to a four-year institution. We offer a high-quality degree at a very affordable price and we think the name will convey that and will continue to strengthen that message."
More from our News archive: "Top 10 names for Metro State better than Denver State University."