Why Some Community Colleges Are Dropping ‘Community’ From Their Names

Many community colleges are looking into changing their names due to a long-standing stigma that they are of lesser-value.

By Rick Gonzales | Published

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community college

Is it a “second class” education, or simply just an education? That is the perception most community colleges are dealing with, which is prompting them to shed some verbiage from their lexicon. More to the point, they wish to drop “community” from their names.

Take, for instance, Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado. They have been discussing the idea of dropping the word “community” from their school title for a number of years (nearly a decade, in fact), but just recently got the okay from Colorado governor Jared Polis after he signed a bill last month allowing them to do so. Now, what was once called Pikes Peak Community College will soon be transformed into Pikes Peak State College. Presto chango.

According to Lance Bolton, the president of the Pikes Peak State College, the change is simply a part of today’s unfortunate reality – most students who are looking at high education see any college with the word “community” in its title feel that they are “lesser” than state colleges or universities. They see a community college as providing inferior education which in turn would give them a degree that would be less marketable in the workforce.

community college

Bolton says that once students do enroll and attend, they realize that the education they are receiving is actually top-notch. He says, though, that the trouble most of these institutions are facing is getting students to commit. Bolton claims that many high school teachers advise their students to stay away from community colleges and they, in fact, are telling students that these institutions are second-rate options.

Bolton even points to the popular sitcom Community as an unfair depiction of an actual community college. He feels that the series, which ran for six fun-filled seasons, showed its community college students to be “misfits and oddballs.” Bolton told Inside Higher Ed, “We have a long-held perception that community college has a stigma attached to it among many of the students that we’re actually trying to serve. This is primarily the issue we’re trying to overcome.”

Bolton’s college isn’t the only one to see a name change. Numerous colleges have been dropping community from their naming nomenclature as a way to shorten their title and turn it into something more palatable. They see the change as a change of the times and a way to hopefully entice students into their hallowed halls. A new, modern image can certainly help with enrollment numbers.

Others, though, prefer to hang on to the “community” in community college. They see it almost as a rite of naming passage, one that perfectly describes to students what their education mission is all about. Steve Robinson, president of Lansing Community College, is one such educational leader.

community college

While Robinson can understand why some colleges wish to remove that word from their school’s title, he sees it vastly differently. He feels the word alone showcases exactly the intention of a community college and that is to serve the local students as well as their families. Robinson feels the problem has a lot more to do with a “teaching problem” than it has to do with a marketing one.

“I think this problem is a lot bigger than branding and nomenclature,” Robinson said to Inside Higher Ed. “I think it’s a teaching problem, not a marketing problem. The catchphrase of our antistigma campaign is ‘We’re not going to change our name. We’re going to change your mind.’ It’s a teaching problem to just let everybody know what a fantastic and transformational idea the community college is. From my perspective, ‘community’ is the coolest part of our name.”

Others don’t see the “cool,” though. Brevard Community College in Cocoa, FL changed its name to Eastern Florida State College. Maui Community College, on the beautiful island of Maui, changed its name to University of Hawaii Maui College, and Dearborn, MI’s Henry Ford Community College, a 75-year-old institution that houses over 23,000 students changed its name to Henry Ford College.

There are plenty of other examples of community colleges changing their name for what they hope is the better. With enrollments dropping across the country, they can use any advantage they can muster up. Hopefully, a name change is a step in the right enrollment direction.

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