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How Much Does the Name of a Degree Matter?

Names are powerful. That’s why I understand Georgia Tech’s “X-Degree.”

March 4, 2012

It’s likely that in 2030, incoming freshmen will have names like Sophia, Emma, Isabella, Aiden, Jackson and Mason – today’s most popular baby names. Names are powerful. That’s why I understand Georgia Tech’s “X-Degree.”

According to a Technique article, “The X-Degree, originally called the X-College, was proposed during the 2009 Strategic Planning Process. The program is meant to be experimental, providing a place for students and faculty to test new ways of teaching traditional subjects.” One of the main items now up for discussion is its name – “X-Degree” is seemingly a placeholder.

Technique reports, “The Committee is putting so much thought into the name because it is the public face of the program. The name of the degree will be at the top of graduates’ resumes, and it will provide recruiters and graduate programs with their first impressions of candidates.”

I couldn’t agree more. Stepping away from higher education for a moment, evidence of the power of names comes from famous organization name changes:

  • Pepsi was first named “Brad’s Drink,” after the founder, Caleb Bradham.
  • Google was first named “BackRub” until 1997.
  • IBM was first named “The Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company.”

And famous people’s name changes:

Back to higher education, last month Georgia Tech’s College of Management announced it would change the name of its undergraduate business degree from a Bachelor of Science in Management to a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration.  According to an article in Technique, “The change ‘makes students more marketable,’” said Chuck Parsons, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs at the College of Management. “Many recruiters… paid no attention to schools without Business Administration programs.”

And in 2008, Wilson College changed its Master of Arts in Teaching to a Master of Education in teacher leadership in the hopes of attracting its desired students.

Degree and certificate names make a difference for students. A worthy name should:

  • Attract the right students
  • Reflect the current focus of the program
  • Clearly communicate the program’s focus to employers
  • Use language that students, employers and the market understand

If employers require an explanation of a degree name, your school - and your students - might be at a disadvantage. I’m not advocating for arbitrary degree name changes or false advertising. But if it’s warranted, it’s worth trying to get it right. Just think how different the world might be if Google was still “BackRub.” We’d be “BackRubbing it” instead of “Googling it.” And that just wouldn’t be good for anyone.

If we make sure degree names are relevant, and give employers the best understanding of what students have studied -- Sophia, Emma, Isabella, Aiden, Jackson and Mason will thank us.


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