Mount Olive College becomes a university

jblack@newsobserver.comJune 10, 2014 

  • Becoming universities

    Shaw University, 1875

    Duke University, 1924

    N.C. State University, 1963

    East Carolina University, 1967

    Wake Forest University, 1967

    Elon University, 2001

    Queens University, 2002

    St. Augustine’s University, 2011

    William Peace University, 2011

The institution of higher learning in the Eastern North Carolina town of Mount Olive has become the latest in North Carolina to change its name to reflect its scope and ambitions: Mount Olive College is now the University of Mount Olive.

The change was made Jan. 1, and is now being advertised through TV and radio ads and on billboards throughout the state. Mount Olive follows two schools in Raleigh – St. Augustine’s and William Peace – which both became universities in 2011.

“People think of colleges being a relatively small institution, but we’ve got around 4,500 students across various locations,” said Mount Olive’s president, Philip Kerstetter. “We are trying to get a more regional and national focus by virtue of our new name.”

Mount Olive surveyed students, faculty, staff and alumni to see how they felt about a name change, asking them to choose between Mount Olive College, Mount Olive University and University of Mount Olive. According to Kerstetter, about 90 percent of all groups wanted to make a change, and it was about equal between the two university options.

The administration chose the University of Mount Olive because it represented the university status and location of the school, and the board of trustees agreed to the recommendation.

Thomas Ferrel graduated from Mount Olive in May with a degree in history and said he was in favor of changing the school’s name.

“Becoming a university and changing the name to the University of Mount Olive sounds more appealing and scholarly,” Ferrel said. “It gives even more incentive for the staff and the students, because they know that more is expected when a school becomes a university.”

Mount Olive started as a two-year college in 1952 before expanding to a four-year program in 1979. The school’s first graduate program, offering a Master of Business Administration, welcomed 50 students when it began in January.

“It was a logical extension to offer graduate level programming and become a university,” Kerstetter said. “Five years down the road, I want to see us continue to grow and expand by offering many graduate and undergraduate programs and have a greater online presence.”

Mount Olive received permission to establish the MBA program from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the regional body for accreditation in Southern states. To earn accreditation, it had to show compliance with the commission’s principle of integrity, core and federal requirements and comprehensive standards, a process that usually takes two years.

Mount Olive hopes the name change will help it recruit more international students. That was one motivation for Peace College’s decision to become William Peace University, said its president, Debra Townsley.

“Internationally, college means secondary school, and university means higher education,” Townsley said. “This will be our first year recruiting international students, so we think that will be an advantage.”

William Peace had 310 new students enroll for the school year after its change to a university, 69 percent more than the previous year. Until 2015, the university will also allow students to choose between receiving a diploma from Peace College or William Peace University.

Not every college feels the need to become a university. Davidson, Guilford and Meredith are among the North Carolina schools sticking with college. Meredith President Jo Allen said the college has considered a name change but decided it’s not necessary at this point.

“Although Meredith does offer graduate programs, we also know that the term ‘college’ may more accurately reflect the community spirit that is Meredith,” Allen said.

Black: 919-829-4835; Twitter: @j_black13

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