JEFFERSON CITY - It looks like a small change on paper, but legislation to rename Southwest Missouri State University is getting plenty of attention in the Missouri legislature.
The school wants to drop the "Southwest" from its name and become Missouri State University. Several groups opposing the change, including the state's Coordinating Board for Higher Education, regional public colleges, and the MU Alumni Association voiced their concerns to the House Miscellaneous Bills and Resolutions Committee on Wednesday.
If a name change is allowed "the next logical step" is statewide competition between SMSU and the state's other institutions of higher education, said Nick Benassi, legislative coordinator for the MU Alumni Association. The fiscal impact of that competition is among the association's concerns, he said.
"The state has a hard enough time funding higher education as it is," Benassi said.
The association believes that down the road the school would begin duplicating programs offered by MU and Missouri's regional colleges, Benassi said.
"The bottom line is that the resources aren't there," he said.
Paul Redfearn, president of SMSU's Board of Governors, said the change would help attract outstanding national faculty as well as out of state students, gifts, grants and contracts. He said those benefits would expand and enhance the scope of higher education opportunities provided to Missouri students, while aiding the state's economic growth.
"The name change also would assist the state with economic development initiatives, especially in attracting business and industry to Springfield and southwest Missouri," Redfearn said.
Rep. Vicki Riback Wilson, D-Columbia, said giving the state's institutions of higher education the same or similar names is a disservice to students trying to make a decision about which one meets their needs and goals.
"It also blurs the mission differences that the state has spent years trying to define," Wilson said.
Without a distinct mission Wilson said it can be difficult for institutions to get the appropriate level of funding.
One of the bill's co-sponsors, Rep. Norma Champion, R-Springfield, pointed out that similar legislation has been debated in the past.
"One of the reasons why we're particularly wanting to do it this year...is because many of us are being term limted out and this is something we've been trying to get for a long time," Champion said.
The committee did not vote on the bill Wednesday. Similar legislation is being considered in the Senate.