What's in a Name?

Georgia wants to force its technical colleges to use "career" in their names. Some educators say that would hurt their quality and confuse them with for-profits.

March 12, 2015

Politicians in Georgia are pushing forward with a proposal to rebrand the state’s technical college system, despite opposition from retired college leaders and the system's regional accreditor.

The bill would rename the Technical College System of Georgia the Career College System of Georgia. Republican Governor Nathan Deal introduced the idea in January, saying the change would better reflect what the colleges do and help to attract more students.

But a group of 20 retired presidents of Georgia’s technical colleges and the president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) Commission on Colleges say differently. The association is the regional accreditor for the system’s 23 colleges.

Both groups questioned the need for the name change in letters to Deal and suggested that money spent on renaming -- possibly millions of dollars -- ought to be spent in classrooms helping students.

Belle Wheelan, president of the accrediting organization, said the name change wouldn’t reflect the mission of the colleges or the positive relationship they have with the four-year institutions in the University System of Georgia. Changing the name would cause confusion and could influence people's perception of the quality of education offered at the system’s colleges, she said.

“Students who graduate from our fine senior institutions also end up with careers, and I doubt that consideration is being given to changing their names to career universities,” she said.

Wheelan’s letter was written after the bill comfortably passed the state’s House of Representatives last week. The bill’s sponsor, Representative Chad Nimmer, a Republican from Blackshear, could not be reached for comment.

Brian Robertson, spokesman for the governor, called the legislation a simple bill.

“There’s been ongoing talks about how we brand the technical college system," he said. "How best we appeal to not only high school students but adults who are looking to go back to school."

The renaming discussion follows a period of significant change within Georgia’s higher education community. The state has reorganized 10 colleges into 5 in a University System of Georgia merger plan that started in 2012. And the system announced at the beginning of this year a plan to merge two more colleges. In January, the technical college system also swore in a new commissioner, Gretchen Corbin.

About 15 years ago, what was known as the state's Technical Institute System was reborn as the Technical College System of Georgia to align it more closely with higher education, said Bob Jones, who retired in 2013 after 16 years as president of Columbus Technical College.

“That was a step forward,” he said in an interview. “This would be a step back.”

There’s a hierarchy of institutions in higher education and technical colleges, frankly, are already placed in a low slot, Jones said. But a career college isn’t recognized at all, and when the term is recognized, it tends to be associated with for-profit institutions.

The former presidents made that point in their letter, saying the name change would make it difficult for the public to distinguish between the state’s technical college system and “less reputable proprietary colleges and online sites.”

Technical colleges are located all over the industrialized world, and their missions are understood in business communities worldwide, the letter states.  

“I have great respect for Governor Deal and what he’s doing, but I do believe this is an ill-conceived proposal,” Jones said.

The retired administrators said in their letter that the name change would carry a price tag of about $14 million to change signs, logos, marketing materials and computer programs.

Neither the governor’s office nor the bill’s sponsors have put out an official cost estimate for the name change, but Robertson said the speculation from outside groups is on the high side. The only immediate spending the name change would require is new signs, he said. Other marketing materials or items with logos could be redesigned within their normal replacement rates.

Jones said it’s possible that the cost will be less than $14 million, but that estimate came from what he called several reliable sources. He said he couldn’t reveal their names or their positions, but did point out that after working on the university system's mergers, the sources likely know how much it costs for new materials.

 “Whether you do it today or over a five-year period, if it’s millions of dollars, it’s still millions of dollars,” he said.

The governor’s proposal caught many people by surprise, since there haven’t been complaints about the name of the colleges. Now that opponents have had time to present their side to legislators, they’re hopeful they can stop the bill from becoming law, Jones said.

The bill, House Bill 315, is currently in the Senate’s Higher Education Committee, which would have to pass it on to the full body. 


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