Sept. 12, 2008: Now a university, it's still St. Kate's

  • Article by: JEFF SHELMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 11, 2008 - 11:28 PM

The College of St. Catherine is modifying its moniker to become St. Catherine University, reflecting its bigger population and grad school.

The iron gate at the corner of Randolph and Cleveland Avenues in St. Paul clearly reads "The College of Saint Catherine."

But as of June 2009, that will no longer be accurate. The nation's largest women's college will be known as St. Catherine University -- a renaming meant to reflect a recent growth spurt and its sizable graduate school.

As for the fate of the gate, Sister Andrea Lee, the school's president, isn't sure what will happen. "A lot of people have asked," Lee said of the iconic gate framing the sloping green hills and gracious gardens at the campus affectionately known as St. Kate's.

"I'm inclined not to take it down," Lee said. "I haven't talked to an ironmaker yet."

The new moniker is meant to capture changes that have transformed the campus in recent years. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has listed St. Kate's among schools offering a range of undergraduate and master's degrees rather than as a pure liberal arts school.

"We haven't been solely a baccalaureate institution for women since 1979," Lee said. "It became clear it was time to look at [the name]. We didn't enter it lightly. This is a process that took over a year, engaged a lot of people and featured a lot of conversation."

Lee said that both the school's budget and endowment have doubled over the past decade and that St. Kate's has had 10 consecutive years of enrollment growth. That has allowed it to surpass noted women's colleges Smith and Wellesley in size.

The school has just under 3,000 women working on four-year undergraduate degrees. It also enrolls about 900 students in associate degree programs and about 1,400 graduate students.

The name change -- which was announced at the start of the year convocation Thursday -- doesn't mean that the more than a century-old school is suddenly going to fundamentally change its undergraduate format. While graduate and associate programs are co-ed (278 men attend St. Kate's), the school will still be all-women at the baccalaureate level.

"We will remain fiercely loyal to our mission," Lee said.

When Lee announced the new name from a list of five candidates -- the biggest differences had to do with an apostrophe and the word "of" -- balloons dropped from the ceiling, and students, faculty and staff cheered.

Because this wasn't an out-of-the-blue announcement, students have had an opportunity to adjust to the impending change.

"I like our name now," said Milan Wilson-Robinson, wearing a soon-to-be-collector's-item College of St. Catherine sweat shirt. "But I'm sure this will be great. It's just something to get used to."

Bridget Staloch, a junior from Minnetonka, said it makes sense for the school to become a university at this point.

Why 'university'?

St. Kate's is the latest of many Minnesota colleges or universities to change names since 1990.

From the University of St. Thomas to Minnesota State University, Mankato to several two-year schools, the name changes are easily in the double digits.

Bethel University president Jay Barnes said replacing the word "college" for "university" does have advantages.

In many other cultures, the term college is related to the U.S. equivalent of high school or community college. Barnes said the name change has helped Bethel in the recruitment of foreign students, and in providing study-abroad opportunities and overseas internships for students.

Barnes said the change helped in the local business community. "It made us seem, in some minds, less of a parochial place and more like a full-blown academic place," he said.

Changing a name, however, isn't cheap. From signs to stationery to soccer jerseys, much needs to be replaced. It is a move that easily costs six figures to pull off. And that's before any significant brand-relaunching costs are factored in.

"The variable costs will be in how much we want to use this as an opportunity to rebrand and our commitment is to do that," Lee said. "We think it's an opportunity you don't get all the time."

Even though the name is changing, current first-year students, sophomores and juniors will get to decide which of the two names they want on their diplomas.

Day to day, it's likely to remain simply St. Kate's.

Jeff Shelman • 612-673-7478

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