Edward McFadden – Staff Writer
CLARION, Pa.- Venango College of Clarion University has been renamed the College of Health and Human Services, effective July 1. The change was announced in a press release Feb. 6, shortly following Clarion’s Council of Trustees’ vote to approve the movement.
Renaming Venango College follows months of market research and trend analysis. It reportedly became a top priority to Venango Dean Dr. Roxanne Gonzales and a team of faculty members in November 2015 during a time of strategic planning for Venango. One of the first things that came out of the group was that the Venango college name was confusing to both prospective and current students.
Team members found that references to the physical location and references to the academic unit were often confused. Special emphasis was put on students being able to identify the academic institution and what it had to offer. Clarion used the services of The Zimmerman Agency, a marketing communications and advertising service company headed by Curtis Zimmerman.
The change was meant to create more of a distinction between the physical location of Clarion’s branch in Oil City, Pa., and the academic institution housing the various programs such as healthcare and criminal justice programs.
Clarion University President Dr. Karen Whitney said of the name change, “People were having a hard time seeing that single name of ‘Venango’ serve effectively for both purposes: the academic unit and the place.”
With 22 percent of the student body earning credentials online, the name change gives practicality to the Clarion website. Gonzales went on to say that prospective students browsing Clarion’s website had concise and accessible information for other departments such as the College of Business Administration and Information Sciences (COBAIS), but could not readily determine what Venango College of Clarion was, or the programs that it had to offer.
“I think prospective students will have a much better understanding from this name than that of Venango College.” Gonzales said.
“Research shows that the average prospective student spends about six seconds on a university’s homepage when they are searching these days. That’s not a lot of time to get your message out there. But if they see College of Health and Human Services, they can quickly find the program that they are already searching for,” said Gonzales.
The press release also stated that the four-year Bachelors of Science in nursing program has reached capacity enrollment for both the 2016 – 2017 and 2017 – 2018 academic years.
Whitney encouragedstudents interested in the program to pursue Clarion’s Associate of Science in Nursing, or the online RN to BSN program, which have not yet reached capacity.
Speaking on Clarion’s behalf, Gonzales expressed desire to expand the programs, which are limited. Mental health counseling, nursing, respiratory care and medical imaging programs require students to go to clinical sites to graduate, shadowing those in professional fields related to their majors.
The number of sites in the area available for students from Clarion and other schools is limited, and puts a ceiling on the number of students Clarion can place in these programs. Gonzales predicted steady enrollment in these programs for a number of years, but not significant growth or decline.
Degrees in nutrition and fitness, sports management and mental health counseling have been added to Clarion’s academic roster over the past three years and are reportedly doing well. Whitney attributed the success of the new degrees to Clarion’s credentials and reputation.
These changes point to a “new Clarion,” in the words of Whitney.
“We want to make it clear what the purpose and mission of Clarion is,” said Whitney. “We are a place that prepares people for professional careers.”
More than 80 percent of the student body is enrolled in professional programs, and it is projected to rise to 95 percent in the next five years. Whitney also spoke to those not in professional programs, expressing solidarity and calling to mind that she herself graduated with a Bachelor’s of Arts in psychology.
Whitney expressed hope that students outside the professional programs would consider graduate school and reiterated Clarion’s commitment to these students.
“Are you doing what you love to do? If you are, then do it. You’ve come here to pursue a course of study. We’re going to make good on that, no matter what. Once anybody is accepted here, we work with them,” said Whitney.
Whitney also mentioned that the teachers know the trajectory of careers in non-professional degrees, and that there are valuable resources to these students. She closed by saying that the changes in Clarion are student-driven and reflect the demand for professional programs from the bottom up.
The physical campus in Oil City retains the name Venango. Regarding the ties to the county and the existing culture, Whitney stressed its importance, “It’s very important that we own and support and advance the educational needs of Venango County and the surrounding counties.”
Clarion’s Venango Campus changed its name to Venango College in 2012. The school has grown and hosted programs up to doctorate-level, and the faculty felt it deserved the recognition.
Gonzales will leave her position after this semester to take a provost position at New Mexico Highlands University, leaving the position of dean of the College of Health and Human Services open. The search for a replacement is expected to begin over the summer, and the search will be carried out on a national level.
July 1 marks the start of Clarion’s fiscal year, and allows time for changes to be made to the appropriate paperwork.
Whitney said, “It’s a reckoning. It’s a realization of who we are and where we’re going.”