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Opinion: It's time for ASU to change its name

The University has outgrown Arizona's boundaries and the state's underwhelming investment


 ASU has gone through six name changes in its 137 year history, beginning as the Territorial Normal School in 1885.

At 5 p.m. outside of Old Main on ASU's Tempe campus, students can hear the school's symphonic bells chime the school hymn. When Mirabella resident David Mills first heard them, he started crying.

"I thought, 'Holy Toledo, yeah, I remember this!'" Mills said. Like many residents, Mills was attracted to the University-based retirement community because it felt like coming home to the school he graduated from in 1963.

"How many students today know that the next (song) coming up is going to be the school hymn? What percentage, 10%? I have no idea. The online students wouldn't care at all," Mills said.

Will today's students have the same connection that draws older alumni to Mirabella?

Nostalgia is a tough sell for a school so different than it was in 1963, or even since ASU President Michael Crow took over in 2002. Crow has demonstrated he can transform higher education by transforming ASU, and it's time the University embraces that by changing its name to reflect that transformation. 

In 2002, state appropriations contributed almost 40% of the money coming into the University while its roughly 58,000 students contributed a little over 20% in tuition.

Today, despite the Arizona constitution requiring that the University, like all public schools in the state, "be as nearly free as possible," the Legislature contributes just 10%, while over 152,000 students now pay half, equating $1.7 billion. The state refusing to pay leaves students responsible for covering the difference.

To Crow's credit, despite that disproportionate burden on students, the latest data shows enrollment has almost tripled during his tenure. In fact, there are over 61,000 online students this year alone. 

It doesn't seem fair. The University's naming rights are worth far more than the state is paying. For instance, Don Mullett and his family have been honored with having their name on the new hockey arena after a donation to the program that equates to almost a quarter of the arena's cost. 

Hear me out. Our school's name has a history of changing as the school redefines itself. In fact, ASU has gone through six name changes in its 137-year history, beginning as the Territorial Normal School in 1885. It was Tempe Normal School or Tempe State Teachers College until 1929, before expanding its boundaries by swapping out the city with the state. We weren't Arizona State University until a ballot initiative passed in 1958. 

With a presence in California, Washington, D.C. and Hawaii, it's factually incorrect to say the University is just an Arizona school, and if trends continue then online students will soon outnumber in-person students. The school that began as Territorial Normal School has once again grown beyond its boundaries, and tradition dictates we update our moniker. 

READ MORE: ASU spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying California's State Legislature 

With apologies to our neighbors to the north, the obvious choice would be New American University in honor of Crow's vision.

While I understand NAU may not be available, consider this: ASU enrollment is already more than half of the entire University of California system. That's UC Davis, UC San Francisco, UC Berkeley, UC Merced, UC Santa Cruz, UC Santa Barbara, UCLA, UC Riverside, UC Irvine, and UC San Diego – combined. Maybe we could catch up even more by just absorbing Northern Arizona altogether? 

Doubtful. Besides, since ASU already has signage on buildings in Arizona alone from Lake Havasu to Mesa it may be prudent to find a new name that keeps the initials. America's Scalable University? Closer, but there has to be a better fit.

One of ASU's most successful growth mechanisms has been the Starbucks College Achievement Program. Forbes reported in May that nearly 900 Starbucks employees graduated from ASU this past spring, and more than 20,000 Starbucks employees are currently participating. 

Maybe other corporations would be interested in partnering with ASU. Starbucks only has about 138,000 employees. That's fewer employees than ASU has students. Could you imagine a partnership with a larger company, say, one with 1.6 million employees? Maybe one that shares the values of innovation and scalability?

Picture it. AMAZON STARBUCKS UNIVERSITY. It seems a fitting name for a University embracing a corporate growth mindset. Prime innovation to the last drop.

It may seem ridiculous at first, but providing access to affordable higher education is a serious matter. Even more so given the growing cost of education, along with the growing cost of pretty much everything else. 

To be clear, in response to my inquiry, Veronica Sanchez, ASU's media relations and strategic communications director, said in an email "there are no plans for a name change at ASU currently." But shouldn't there be?

Just think what those companies, or others, might pay for the honor. I imagine Crow could negotiate far more than we're getting from the state. Then the University could once again uphold its constitutional duty.

Should we start the bidding at $1.7 billion?

Edited by Sadie Buggle, Piper Hansen and Kristen Apolline Castillo.

Reach the columnist at and follow @jamesbrownasu on Twitter.

Editor's note: The opinions presented in this column are the author's and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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James Doyle Brown Jr.Opinion Columnist

James Doyle Brown, Jr. is an opinion columnist at The State Press. He is also in his final semester as a graduate student studying investigative journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He has previously reported for the State Press politics desk, The Howard Center of Investigative Journalism and Carnegie-Knight News21.

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