News & Events
Mars Hill College to Become Mars Hill University
“Mars Hill University.”
The new name may feel strange on the tongue for those who know and love Mars Hill College, but it also denotes a new and exciting era for the institution. The name, which will change officially on August 15, 2013, is the second name change in the 157-year history of Mars Hill.
A celebration of the name change will take place on campus on August 26, after students have returned for the 2013-14 academic year.
Mars Hill was established in 1856 by a small group of Baptist families in Madison County as French Broad Baptist Institute. Two years later, the trustees chose the name Mars Hill, for the site in Athens, Greece, named in Acts 17, where the Apostle Paul so persuasively used logic in his defense of the Christian faith.
According to President Dan Lunsford, the move to university status is one that has been contemplated and discussed by the administration and the current Board of Trustees for around a decade. Recently, the college’s expansion, both in terms of enrollment and variety of offerings, has increased, setting the stage for the move to university status.
“We believe that changing the designation from college to university is one that positions the institution to be recognized for what we really are,” Lunsford said. “The name university denotes a greater variety of offerings, and it indicates the opportunity to obtain undergraduate and graduate education in selected fields as part of the Mars Hill experience.”
Among the factors that have contributed to the timing of the name change is the establishment, beginning in the summer of 2011, of Mars Hill’s first graduate program: the master of education. At its May 2013 graduation, Mars Hill conferred the first master’s diplomas in its history upon the graduates of the first cohort to begin that program. Later in May, the third cohort of master’s students began its journey through the program.
Future master’s programs are currently under consideration. The next program set for implementation is a master of public administration, and other graduate degrees are currently being explored for implementation in the future.
The college is also expanding at the undergraduate level. Most obviously, it is expanding in enrollment. As the 2012-13 academic year began, Mars Hill College welcomed a record-setting traditional student body that was 7% larger than the year before, and nearly 20% higher than two years before. Although numbers are not firm as of this writing, all the signs point to an even larger freshman class for the 2013-14 academic year.
Mars Hill’s traditional program is also expanding in terms of offerings. Beginning in August, the university will offer the criminal justice major for the first time. Previously a minor in the sociology program, the new major has generated a lot of interest and excitement among new students. Other new majors, including a bachelor’s degree in nursing, are currently in the planning stages.
Another sign of Mars Hill’s growth is the opening of its South Asheville site on Airport Road, called the Asheville Center for Adult and Graduate Studies. For over three decades, Mars Hill College has provided classes in the Asheville area at several locations, including AB Tech, Blue Ridge Community College, and TC Roberson High School. The opening of the Asheville Center, however, staked out a secondary location for the college and expanded its reach to constituents and students in the Asheville-Hendersonville area and beyond.
In light of the growth Mars Hill has experienced in all these areas, the Board of Trustees, together with President Lunsford, made the decision that now was the time to become Mars Hill University.
According to Lunsford, a name which better reflects the academic excellence offered at Mars Hill should not suggest that the essential “soul” of the Mars Hill experience will change.
The decision is part of an ongoing effort to position the institution as a premier private liberal arts university, which can meet the needs of a growing student population into the 21st century. And yet, Lunsford said that he and the trustees remain committed to controlled growth that will continue to nurture an atmosphere of personalized education founded on relationships. An education that results from engagement and personal mentorship prepares and equips students for the future better than a “big box” education, he said.
“Mars Hill is transitioning to university to reflect a more comprehensive academic program, but we remain committed to the traditional mission of the institution: to be a liberal arts institution, rooted in the Christian faith, providing experiences which tie our students to the world of work and to a lifetime of service to their fellow human beings,” Lunsford said. “All those components that we have believed in for a very long time as the mission of the institution are still alive and well at Mars Hill, but the vision is growing and expanding for a changing world.”