The three-way public higher education merger that created the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system has been a 25-year process of fits and starts. The early vision of an integrated system of two-year technical and community colleges and four-year state universities has met with resistance from at least some of the system’s 31 affiliated-yet-autonomous institutions.
Finally, that’s changing. Maybe a name change would signify as much.
That’s the thinking behind a proposal moving toward action by the MnSCU board of trustees, likely in June. It would retain the legal name “Minnesota State Colleges and Universities,” but rebrand the group of 31 institutions as “Minnesota State.” The MnSCU acronym would disappear from official use.
Institutional rebranding in hopes of improving public recognition is in vogue in Minnesota. Witness the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, which now calls itself MIA, and Fairview Health Services and University of Minnesota Physicians, which are forging a combination to be known as M Health.
MnSCU leaders got on the rebranding bandwagon when market research told them that most Minnesotans don’t know who or what MnSCU is. It’s often taken to mean all higher educational institutions in the state — public and private. Even on MnSCU campuses, misunderstanding is common, said MnSCU chief marketing and communications officer Noelle Hawton. Many students assume “MnSCU” refers only to the chancellor’s office.
By comparison, Hawton said, the name “Minnesota State” is more easily understood to mean taxpayer-supported higher education institutions and a lower-cost, broadly accessible alternative to the University of Minnesota. Turn those words into a common, widely used logo and label, and MnSCU’s schools could better advertise their relationship, she said.
Maybe so. But “Minnesota State” is also a name that treads on the identities of two MnSCU state universities — Minnesota State University, Mankato and Minnesota State University, Moorhead. In addition, six two-year campuses already use “Minnesota State” in their names.
The rebranding project does not seek to rename any individual institutions. A case can be made that it should. Awareness is growing that for students’ sakes, MnSCU ought to be a coordinated system that allows students to move seamlessly from campus to campus, and from two-year to four-year programs. Parallel institutional names would convey that reality more effectively than would any catchy new name for the system as a whole.
But that much rebranding probably asks too much — for now — of schools with long histories that, after two decades of association, are just getting serious about aligning their academic requirements to facilitate student transfers. For years, some of those schools seemed to downplay their MnSCU connection. If they now see value in advertising their association with one another — under whatever brand name they choose — they are moving in a desirable direction.