August 16, 2010 | last updated March 25, 2012 2:56 am

Colleges Plan For 'University' Conversion Costs | Switch will cost little, but must be funded in-house

Photo/Christina H. Davis
Photo/Christina H. Davis
A NEW NAME: Signs like this one will have to be updated as Worcester State makes the transition from a college to a university.

By becoming universities rather than colleges, the six Massachusetts public higher education institutions that made that change late last month hope to attract more funding from foundations, corporations and alumni.

Gov. Deval Patrick signed legislation that replaces "college" in Worcester State College, Framingham State College, Fitchburg State College, Bridgewater State College, Salem State College and Westfield State College with "university."

The law's supporters in state government and the Legislature said the conversion would increase the state's population of public university students, generate additional revenue and level the playing field with other universities, making them more competitive with others from around the country.

Added Prestige

Traditionally, there was a distinction between colleges and universities, with only universities offering graduate-level degrees.

But those definitions are loosening and the change in Massachusetts is almost purely for the sake of prestige. And the universities hope that the added prestige will translate into dollars.

But the switch isn't without complexity or cost.

Fitchburg State estimates that the effort will cost the school between $50,000 and $75,000 in the first year, and take five or 10 years to complete.

And Fitchburg State has been careful, said President Robert Antonucci.

"We've been preparing for this for the last three-and-a-half years, and looking at the business side. The return on investment for students is there," Antonucci said.

In the time that the measure to change from "college" to "university" has been on the table, Fitchburg State has ordered all of its banners, uniforms and temporary signage to say just "Fitchburg State" or simply "Fitchburg."

Items that are easy to change, have been. FSU's website, for example, already says "Fitchburg State University." The same is true for the others included in the change of designation.

But now comes the more challenging work.

Antonucci noted that the new universities are not allowed to use their state appropriations for purposes of the conversion. FSU's state appropriation is about $23 million of its $75 million budget.

He also noted that "we don't have to do it overnight."

Seeing The Signs

FSU has four major Fitchburg State College signs on and around campus that will be changed using funds from its marketing budget.

"You'll probably see the word 'college' around here for the next five or 10 years," Antonucci said.

Fortunately, the digital age means that FSU doesn't have reams of now-outdated letterhead and stationery sitting around campus, either.

But there is some, and there are enough changes to make overall that the school plans to appoint a 15- to 20-member "transition team" to plan for the conversion of all that stuff.

Lea Ann Scales, assistant vice president of public relations and marketing at Worcester State University, said WSU is now taking stock of all the changes it will have to make.

Scales said WSU's conversion will not result in any increases to tuition or fees.

Athletic uniforms will be transitioned slowly from WSC to WSU, and staff is currently busy identifying every piece of signage on the WSU campus on Worcester's West Side.

"Once we have a total picture, we'll take a fiscally prudent approach. The cost is going to be minimal," Scales said.

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