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Mass. Colleges To Become State Universities

Gov. Deval Patrick is expected to sign a bill Wednesday allowing nine state colleges to officially become state universities.

Fitchburg State College President Robert Antonucci insists the transition is not purely semantic.

"We just haven't decided to change our name for the sake of changing our names," Antonucci said. "What we're finding is because most of the other states have done it, our students are at a disadvantage."

Advocates for the change say it would attract better-qualified students and faculty, improve the school's standing and put students in a better position to succeed upon graduation.

Still, the bill faces a small, but vocal minority opposition.

Opponents say it would give the newly dubbed universities an excuse to raise tuition. After all, they say, if students are getting a better education, they should be paying for it.

According to a March 2008 report from The Hanover Council, enrollment numbers at other schools that changed designations from colleges to universities either stayed relatively stagnant or increased only slightly. Some schools even saw a decline in the first few years after the name change, according to the report.

Over the long term, the report says, schools tend to see a slight enrollment increase and a slightly higher year-to-year increase in tuition rates.

But Antonucci says students would see no tuition hikes as a result of Fitchburg State's decision to become a university.

"We have no plans to increase fees because we are a university," Antonucci said. "We have no plans to change our teaching schedule for faculty. We have no plans to add additional fees for students."

What the school has done, he says, is take small steps in the past three years to make the transition from a college to a university easier.

For example, no college banner uses the word "college." Instead, they simply say "Fitchburg State." The school's sweatshirts and athletic uniforms simply say "Fitchburg."

The school cannot officially change its name until 90 days after the bill is signed — October 26 at the earliest — but Antonucci says preparations have been made to make the move as smooth as possible.

"We don't want to have a wholesale change overnight that's going to be very costly," he said. "I know at Fitchburg State, we're ready to go."

This program aired on July 28, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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