Higher Education Law Report
So, You Want To Be a University?
March 23, 2022
By: Joanna L. Silver
Colleges in New York have explored the possibility of becoming a university and often found it difficult to do so given the state’s definition of university set forth in section 50.1(l) of the Commissioner’s Regulations. Since 1969, New York’s Board of Regents has defined a university as “a higher educational institution offering a range of registered undergraduate and graduate curricula in the liberal arts and sciences, degrees in two or more professional fields, and doctoral programs in at least three academic fields.” With this definition in place, New York was the only state in the country requiring the creation and operation of doctoral programs in order for an institution to be a university. This requirement made it difficult for colleges to market themselves to prospective students around the U.S. and abroad in a way that appropriately reflected the breadth and depth of their academic programs. This changed at the Board of Regents’ January 2022 meeting when the Board adopted a new definition of “university.” Effective Jan. 26, 2022, the Commissioner’s Regulations define a university as “a higher educational institution offering a range of registered undergraduate and graduate curricula in the liberal arts and sciences, including graduate programs registered in at least three of the following discipline areas: agriculture, biological sciences, business, education, engineering, fine arts, health professions, humanities, physical sciences and social sciences.” By removing the doctoral programs and degrees in two or more special professional fields from the definition of university, the Board of Regents has created a path for more New York colleges with both undergraduate and graduate programs to become universities if they so choose.
In order for a college to become a university in New York, a petition to amend the institution’s charter must be filed with the Board of Regents. A review of the minutes from the February 2022 and March 2022 meetings of the Board of Regents reveals that several New York colleges – D’Youville, Touro, Utica, Daemen, Excelsior and Molloy – have already had their charter amendment petitions approved by the Board of Regents, officially changing their corporate names from ‘college’ to ‘university.’
This is certainly an exciting development for colleges in New York. Of course, before petitioning the Board of Regents for a charter amendment, colleges should carefully consider the impact of changing the school’s name to a university designation. Such issues include trademark and other intellectual property issues, branding and marketing considerations, changes to the school’s website and other digital and paper literature items, etc.
If your New York college is considering becoming a university, Bond’s Higher Education attorneys are ready to assist. Do not hesitate to contact Joanna L. Silver or any attorney in Bond’s Higher Education practice with any questions you may have.