If you went to Thomas Edison State College, now may be the time to ask for a new diploma. The school has changed its name to Thomas Edison State University.
“We pursued the change because we felt ‘university’ was a better reflection and a more accurate description of the institution we have become over the years,” said TESC president George Pruitt.
The name change is one that is sure to ripple through generations of TESC/TESU alumni. Confusion over an institution’s name can persist for decades to come, due to the fact that people occasionally refer throughout their lives to where they went to college. In local obituaries, it’s not uncommon to read that the deceased graduated from “Trenton State College, now the College of New Jersey.”
But what’s the difference between a college and a university anyway? Many people use the words for institutions of post-secondary education interchangeably, and the definition varies from country to country and even from state to state. But in general, a university is larger and offers a wider variety of courses than a college.
“It’s not a qualitative difference,” Pruitt said. “Colleges aren’t better than universities, and universities aren’t better than colleges. Some of the finest institutions in the U.S. are colleges.”
In New Jersey, the secretary of education regulates the use of the terms. To become a “university” in New Jersey, a college must show that it offers a variety of graduate courses and that it has the administration to support graduate studies in addition to undergraduate classes.
“Colleges tend to be focused on undergraduate teaching and they tend to be smaller and narrower in focus than universities,” Pruitt said. “Universities are large, comprehensive, complex institutions with significant graduate offerings. Over the years we have evolved from an institution that was narrowly focused on undergraduate work to an institution that today is large, comprehensive, and complex.”
Pruitt said that the plan to make TESC into TESU was set in motion four years ago. Since that time, the school has added more graduate studies, now up to 14, including a master of science in nursing, and a number of business-related degrees. Pruitt said the school will soon offer a doctorate in nursing practice, its first doctoral level program.
The school specializes in adult learners, and many of its students take classes remotely rather than at TESU’s eight-building campus in downtown Trenton. A large portion of Edison’s student body is made up of actively serving members of the military.
Pruitt said that the name change to “university” will bring a new focus on graduate studies to the school, which offers more than 100 undergraduate programs.
The reaction from students and alumni has been positive, Pruitt said. “I haven’t heard a single alumni say it’s a bad idea,” he said. “We have already had 500 requests from graduates to have new diplomas issued.”
The name change, which took effect at the end of December, went hand in hand with a marketing effort, with the school giving away Thomas Edison State University branded merchandise on Facebook, and building a brick archway to commemorate the occasion.
Edison is not the only New Jersey school to make an upgrade recently. Stockton and Felician also renamed themselves as universities in 2015.
One institution that plans to remain a college is The College of New Jersey. Founded as the New Jersey State Normal School in 1855, the institution now known as TCNJ has changed its name five times since then but never once had “university” in its title.
TCNJ spokesman David Muha said that’s not going to change any time soon.
“I think most importantly that in the public’s mind, a college tends to be viewed as a smaller institution with small class sizes and the opportunity for close interaction between students and faculty. And that’s what TCNJ offers,” he said.
He said since TCNJ was focused on undergraduate education and didn’t offer any doctoral programs, the term “college” best described the institution.
Pruitt said the new designation or Thomas Edison was just nomenclature catching up to reality. “Institutions that look like us are more commonly described as universities,” he said.