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‘M’battled :Thoughts on both sides of the UMKC name change debate

Students have until Friday to complete an online name change survey that will influence whether or not UMKC keeps its four letter acronym or switches to either “KCU” or “UKC.”

A name change won’t affect the University’s affiliation with the UM System, and the estimated $1 million cost would be funded exclusively by private donations.

Chancellor Leo Morton initiated the name change proposal earlier this year, arguing that it could boost the school’s brand recognition by better establishing it as “Kansas City’s University.”

About 70 percent of UMKC’s enrollment comes from the 15-county Kansas City region, and 75 percent of the school’s graduates settle in the area.

Morton has argued that a name change could boost enrollment and philanthropic donations to the school, which are needed to fill the revenue gap created by declining state allocations.

State funding has dwindled from 40 percent of UMKC’s total revenues in the late ’90s to about 20 percent for the current fiscal year. This has prompted tuition increases and forced UMKC to aggressively pursue other revenue streams.

If surveys of students, faculty and alumni show strong support for a name change, Morton said he would take the proposal to the UM Board of Curators in December.

Establishing UMKC as a model urban research university and furthering its reputation in the Kansas City region are imperative to positioning the school for long-term growth and achievement.

This is already happening: donations are pouring in and enrollment has increased steadily.

The UMKC Foundation’s Campaign appears on track to reach its $250 million fundraising goal by 2016.

$126.4 million had already been raised by the start of the fall semester, including $65.6 million from 19,000 donors during the fiscal year 2012, ending June 30.

UMKC’s fall semester head count has grown from 14,462 in 2007 to a record 16,019 this year.

Whether or not a name change would accelerate enrollment growth or entice donors is difficult to predict without survey results.

The Bloch School’s Entrepreneurship program and Downtown Arts Campus, if it comes together as planned, will play a pivotal role in the region’s future and have the potential to put Kansas City on the map.

A new name and marketing strategy could make the University more attractive to prospective students in the Kansas City region, especially on the Kansas side of the state line.

Johnson County has fueled the region’s job and population growth in recent years, and it is home to three of the best and largest public school districts in the metro.

Johnson County could become the prime market for UMKC to recruit undergraduate students, and UMKC could play a hegemonic role in bringing jobs and families back to the urban core.

Despite offering in-state tuition to residents of 11 Kansas counties through the Metro Rate program, many Kansans simply overlook UMKC because they naïvely assume it is a satellite of the UM-Columbia campus.

On the other hand, conventional wisdom says what isn’t broken doesn’t need to be fixed.

Kansas City isn’t a wildly popular destination outside of the Great Plains.

For many, the “University of Kansas City” doesn’t have a lick of brand equity, but “University of Missouri-Kansas City” may legitimize the campus by linguistically connecting it to the UM System.

Some have suggested that the proposed names sound too much like a for-profit college, like the University of Phoenix.

Many alumni and students have grown attached to the UMKC brand, and a name change could make them feel like outsiders. (Morton said diplomas reflecting the name change would be provided to graduates who request them for no charge, if that’s any consolation.)

Results from the name change surveys will provide useful insight, which is why student participation is crucial.

Those who react critically to the outcome of the name change proposal but refuse to speak up now will only have themselves to blame.

nzoschke@unews.com

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