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Lourdes changes name to 'university,' hold convocation

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    Robert C. Helmer, Lourdes president, says the name will change but the mission will be the same.

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Robert C. Helmer, Lourdes president, says the name will change but the mission will be the same.

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Signs at what was Lourdes College already carry the school's new name.

Once exclusively devoted to educating Franciscan sisters, the Sylvania school has come a long way. Lourdes College will hold its convocation Friday at 3 p.m. at the Franciscan Center Theatre, and will officially change its name to Lourdes University. After a welcoming ceremony for students, Lourdes will retire its ceremonial mace for a new one that says "university."

There are no specific criteria in Ohio for a college to become a university, but Lourdes president, Robert C. Helmer, said the change is not a pure recruitment ploy. The word university traditionally refers to a higher education institution that has both undergraduate and graduate programs. In recent years, Lourdes has added graduate programs, intercollegiate athletics, and on-campus housing. New master's programs start this year, and faculty increased their research efforts.

"It has to be more than just marketing," Mr. Helmer said about the shift from college to university. "That would feel inauthentic."

Lourdes has been planning the university move since 2008, when it unveiled a seven-year strategic plan that called for the change by fall, 2015. Mr. Helmer said becoming a university will add a "whole new energy to the campus."

Lourdes is not alone in the college-to-university name change. Several colleges in northwest Ohio have become universities during the past quarter-century -- including Bluffton University, the University of Findlay, and Tiffin University. Heidelberg University made the shift in 2009, though the school was called a university from 1889 to 1926.

"It felt like our set-up and our organization was trending more toward the university than the college," Lindsay Sooy, Heidelberg vice president for enrollment management, said.

Lourdes plans to expand its recruitment area, as the school projects the Toledo market to continue to contract. School officials hope the university moniker aids in that recruitment, though Ms. Sooy said Heidelberg experienced negligible results when the name changed.

Lourdes has filled an educational niche in the Toledo area since it was founded in 1958, serving as a small-campus, intimate environment alternative to the University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University.

Mr. Helmer insisted that Lourdes isn't on a path to discard that niche for unending expansion. The school's master plan calls for enrollment goals to cap at 3,000 students; the school has about 2,700 undergraduate and graduate enrollees, he said. Class sizes will remain small.

"We have such a commitment to this personalized education," he said. "You can't do that if you get too big."

And so the signs on campus have changed and a new name will be officially adopted Friday, but the core of Lourdes, Mr. Helmer said, will remain.

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