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Rivier College Seeks University Status

Rivier College in Nashua may be getting a makeover.

If you’ve never heard of the college, you can easily understand why it needs one.

Like many small, private liberal arts colleges, Rivier is competing for students.

That’s part of the reason Rivier wants to upgrade its status from college to university.

It’s a name change that will help the school build prestige, and perhaps more importantly, recruit international students.

The Rivier College campus spreads out beyond a rotary off South Main Street in Nashua.

The school began as a women’s Catholic college in the 1930s, and 60 years later, went co-ed.

For most, it’s a commuter school. Among the 2300 undergrad and graduate students, fewer than 400 reside in dorms.

Class sizes are small, and sometimes intensely personal.

In a roundtable setting, about a dozen students debate the causes of childhood obesity.

Rivier may be the region’s oldest college.

But beyond Nashua, not many know its name.

But a new president at the college - Sister Paula Marie Buley – expects that to change.

Buley wants Rivier College to become Rivier University.

She says the distinction matters, because, "For the rest of the world, the word 'college' means high school."

And that makes Rivier College a tough sell with students from abroad.

She explains that the college has an entrée to an overseas network with its founders, the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary.

"The Sisters are in 20 countries around the world. I now have 20 doorbells to ring."

Buley hopes to bring in students from Japan, the Philippines or Indonesia by the fall of 2013.

"We’ll be starting with 20 or 25 students. They will come initially from the connections we have with the Sisters of the Presentation abroad. We have an enormous opportunity for global engagement in service learning and in internships."

But this may be about more than internships.

A tough economy has forced many small colleges like Rivier to be entrepreneurial.

International students often pay full tuition.

Steve LeMenager is president of Edvice. He helps foreign high school graduates get into American colleges.

He says pursuing a university title is a good strategy for a college.

"It might make the school feel more important because it has a larger footprint in the marketplace. It’s really all about getting enough students to enroll in your school."

Rivier’s president acknowledges that the school is competing for name recognition.

But she says the name change is about more than simply boosting the college’s bottom line.

"The driving force behind the name change is not enrollment. The motivation for this change in status is to describe ourselves to the world most appropriately."

Rivier wouldn’t be the first local college to make this change.

Southern New Hampshire University, for example, used to be New Hampshire College.

Tanya Gray is a recruiter based in Taiwan. 

"We have been working with Southern New Hampshire University since the 1990s. The change of the name from college to university did a lot of good."

In the last seven years, Southern New Hampshire University increased its international enrollment by more than 50 percent. Today, its international population is nearly 900 students.

No one is saying a name change alone can elevate a college’s image. But it’s a start.

Rivier expects to get the official nod from the state by late spring.


Sheryl Rich-Kern has been contributing stories for NHPR since 2006, covering education, social services, business, health care and an occasional quirky yarn that epitomizes life in New Hampshire. Sherylâââ

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