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Sr. Paula Buley, president of Rivier College, talks to the editorial board at The Telegraph Tuesday, November 1, 2011.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Rivier president says change to university is in the works

Rivier College could soon be Rivier University.

Since being founded in 1933, the Catholic institution has undergone several changes to its identity, said Sister Paula Marie Buley, who took over as president of the college this summer. The process of changing from college to university status is part of the continued effort to make sure the school’s name reflects the programs it is offering, she said.

“As far as our competitive footprint, it’s the best way to describe who we are,” Buley said.

In an interview with The Telegraph’s editorial board Tuesday, Buley said conversations about changing to university status preceded her arrival to the school in August. But it has been one of the changes she has spearheaded since taking the position. Faculty, students and alumni have all been receptive to the idea of the change, she said.

“There’s really been an enormous positive consensus about this opportunity,” Buley said. “It’s not a full-fledged structural change. It more reflects the diversity of our programs.”

The college has filed the necessary paperwork with the state Department of Education and will go before the New Hampshire Higher Education Commission on Dec. 1 to request approval. The final step after that would be approval from the state Legislature. The change could become official as early as next fall, she said.

Buley said the purpose of making the change is two-fold.

First, the global nature of higher education has required the college to brand itself in a way that translates across the world. In most other parts of the world, college is more closely identified with the high school experience, she said.

Second, Buley said the college’s expansion of its graduate degree programs, particularly the introduction of a doctorate of education in 2008, required the college to find a way to more accurately brand itself to potential students. Of the college’s 2,200 students, about 900 are enrolled in graduate programs.

Rivier’s decision is something other colleges in the state have pursued in recent years. In 2001, New Hampshire College became Southern New Hampshire University. And in 2003, Plymouth State College changed to Plymouth State University.

Julie Bernier, provost and vice president of academic affairs at Plymouth State University, said the change was good for the school and was done for similar reasons cited by Buley. It has helped with recognition of the school abroad and made it more competitive for grants, she said.

“For us, we felt it reflected what we had become,” Bernier said.

Generally speaking, colleges are made up of different academic departments, where a university is a group of schools that fall under the umbrella of the school’s name. There is no strict definition for what classifies as a college or university, Bernier said. For example, Dartmouth College is one of the country’s premiere institutions for research and graduate studies, but chooses to retain its classification as a college, she said.

“They could easily by a university,” she said. “In some ways, I think it’s semantics.”

Buley came to Rivier from Anna Maria College, where she spent the past year working in an interim basis as the executive vice president for administration. She said the switch to university status is one of goals on the horizon for the college. There are plans to develop a second doctorate program in counseling psychology.

Buley said online education also will expand. In January, the college will launch two online MBA programs: one in health care administration and the other in management information systems. Buley said the college must present more options for students, who either want to take strictly online courses or take a hybrid of online and in-person.

Broadening distance education is one way the college can cut back on costs and give students less expensive options. Tuition to Rivier this year is $25,410, with room and board costing an additional $9,798.

Buley said graduate studies will be where the college will see its enrollment grow in the coming years. In the past, a bachelor’s degree was seen as a guaranteed ticket to the middle class, Buley said.

“Now, it’s no longer that ticket,” she said.

Michael Brindley can be reached at 594-6426 or mbrindley@nashuatelegraph.com.