Union College Will Become Union Adventist University

Trustees vote to change the school’s name as of May 2024.

Union College News, and Adventist Review
Union College Will Become Union Adventist University
In May 2024, Union College will become Union Adventist University. [Photo: Union College]

The Board of Trustees of Union College voted on October 2 to change the school’s name for the first time in its 132-year history after reviewing a year’s worth of research. In May 2024, the school located in Lincoln, Nebraska, United States, will become Union Adventist University.

“We believe this name will better communicate Union’s scope as we broaden our graduate offerings,” Gary Thurber, board chair, said. “It also allows us to be distinct from the other colleges named ‘Union’ while reaffirming our connection to a faith that puts service first and welcomes all who want to experience an outstanding Christian education.”

Why ‘University’?

Union College’s first graduate program, a master of physician assistant studies, was launched 15 years ago and graduates 30 healthcare professionals each year. As Union started the process of launching three new graduate programs in 2023 and 2024, many faculty and alumni began to ask if this might be the right time to change the name to “university.”

“The Union College name carries a great legacy that is near and dear to all our hearts,” Joe Allison, then president of the alumni association, wrote in a survey asking for alumni opinions. “This same moniker has served our school since 1891 and will be hard to let go. But when we consider the current educational landscape and the advantages of embracing the university name, we believe it is worth considering.”

The majority of alumni, employees, and students who responded to the surveys shared the opinion that Union should change its name.

In the age of internet search engines, Union has struggled to differentiate itself from three other schools named Union College and a Union University while trying to accurately communicate the scope of education offered. The trustees unanimously agreed a name change is a key part of helping Union be competitive — especially as many other Nebraska and Adventist institutions changed their names long ago.

“We have moved to the point of not just having programs that reflect the name ‘university,’ but we have to acknowledge the fundamental shift in society that recognizes that the name ‘university’ holds a higher value than the name ‘college,’ ” Ben Holdsworth, professor of religion, said.

Why Stick with ‘Union’ and Add ‘Adventist’?

Union’s long-standing history and brand awareness among alumni and the Seventh-day Adventist Church made it important for many constituents that the university’s name still focus on “Union” and its deeper meaning of working together for a higher purpose. This allows marketing efforts to build on a recent rebranding using the Union shield rather than rebuilding brand awareness from zero with an unfamiliar name.

The school is owned and operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church and has a rich culture of faith-based Christian values. Since the beginning, Union has been aligned with the church’s mission to serve the world — as evidenced by a variety of medical programs that emphasize serving those who need it most; an international rescue and relief program focused on teaching students to serve in developing nations; and a history of celebrating international volunteers and missionaries through an annual golden cords ceremony.

Union’s physician assistant (PA) and nursing programs partner to provide a monthly foot clinic at a local soup kitchen. PA students volunteer and complete clinical rotations at local free clinics as a part of their coursework. Business students provide free tax services at the Good Neighbor Center. International rescue and relief (IRR) students travel across the country to aid the victims of natural disasters. The integration of service, learning, and faith is felt in every program offered. 

“We train our students to see the bigger picture and discover ways to solve problems, relieve suffering, and make the world a better place through God’s love,” Vinita Sauder, Union’s president, said.

Sauder emphasized that a name change will not impact the value of a Union education for anyone who wants to find their God-given purpose and unlock their potential, which is the college’s promise in the tagline. “Union offers a Christian environment and worldview, and students of all faiths are welcome to join our campus family.”

Timeline for Change

Many details still need to be worked out, but Union’s leadership expects to begin the behind-the-scenes work immediately, school leaders said. “The goal will be to officially transition to the new name in May 2024 — both to give adequate time to transition the campus and to avoid confusion among prospective students who have already begun the admissions process,” they said.

The original version of this story was posted on Union College’s news site.

Union College News, and Adventist Review