College Finds Liberal-Arts Logo Brings Skepticism

What's in name?

Apparently a lot of confusion when it comes to the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, which until last year was called North Adams State University.

The change is one of the reasons, school officials say, that the state school is dealing with a nearly 30 percent drop in freshman applications.

Officials expected a difficult transition to the new name, but they say their plans to shed the party-school image for one of higher academic standards will ultimately succeed.

"This is the first year in a process that's going to take a decade," James Carlin, chairman of the state Board of Higher Education told The Boston Globe. "If anybody is looking for quick results, they'll be disappointed."

The switch was supposed to cap a four-year effort to upgrade the college, which includes a revamped education department, more challenging courses, an instituted honors program, and a capital plan to refurbish the campus. But the name change led to the decline in applications.

"It was a bigger drop than we expected," college president Thomas Aceto said. "We found that a lot of people don't understand the liberal arts part of the name."

In the past, the business department and teacher certification program have been the school's biggest pull, Mr. Aceto said.

But with the new name, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, many high school students, guidance counselors, and parents thought those disciplines were dropped, he said.

Aceto said the school actually increased academic standards in those areas, adding more liberal-arts courses to provide a broader educational base.

"What we're doing with business really follows what Harvard did at the graduate level," Aceto said.

"Business leaders say they can teach people all the accounting and finance they need to know after they hire them," he said. "What they want from graduates are students who can read well, write well, think critically, and understand technology."

While the drop in the number of applications is of concern to some, the school has made some progress since the revamping. The average combined SAT score for incoming students is up from 836 to 1030. The average high school grade-point average for new students is up from 2.5 to 2.9.

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