Oakton removes ‘Community’ in college’s name


Gabriela Krieger / Nicholas Jordan, Editor-in-Chief / Production Manager

Oakton’s name change is a development that has been long in the making. On Jun. 25, 2019, the conversation of removing the “community” from Oakton’s name was first discussed, and then was later confirmed in 2021. The official date of the name change took place Jan. 17.

In October of 2022, Oakton President Joianne Smith publicly announced the official college name change. “We are proud of our history as Oakton Community College, but we believe future students and affiliates will identify better with Oakton College,” Smith said. 

Now, the change is well underway. Upon driving up the winding, tree-lined pathway towards the Des Plaines campus, commuters can see that the light-pole banners now bear the name “Oakton College”. 

“I feel like a lot of people view community college as not as hard and that the students are not as smart,” said Jenna Agan, Oakton student. “But that is not the case. Students have to work just as hard in community college as they would in a university.”

Earlier last year, Occurrence reported that there was a 3.5 percent decrease in students attending college nationwide in 2021, with community colleges such as Oakton seeing the most dramatic decrease at 9.5 percent. The Illinois Community College Board reports that only 18 out of the 51 community colleges in Illinois use “community” in their name. 

However, some students feel that removing the “community” from what is still, ostensibly, a community college, does more harm than good. 

Oakton art student and club president Stephanie Erner feels that dropping the community part of the name is a poor decision. She thinks that the school could put its focus into more productive things such as improving student facilities and resources.

“I love the art department,” said Erner. “It pisses me off that Oakton is spending money on aesthetics rather than facilities and resources for students.”

The name change also led to students questioning the cost of tuition. “The College does not anticipate a change in tuition in 2023,” stated Oakton’s official website. “Variables that affect tuition include market dynamics, the cost of inflation, and other factors.” 

The corresponding cost of the name change is a further concern. Critics wonder whether having to change street signs, light-pole banners, and merchandise is a productive use of school funds.

“Pausing orders to use up Oakton Community College materials before purchasing newly branded materials would have been a more environmentally sustainable plan,” said Lucia Zdenahlik, Oakton student and Co-President and Treasurer of the environmental club. “Although the College has claimed they prioritize sustainability, it is clear that it was not practiced while executing the rebrand.”

Pencils, notebooks, sports uniforms, name-tags, lanyards, and an endless assortment of gear bearing the original college name were redesigned, reproduced, and restocked.

“During a recycle drive, some paper products were recycled, apparel and items were donated, and everything else had to be sent to the landfill,” said Zdenahlik. “This action will have a negative impact on the environment for centuries, and it could have been avoided.”

However, in the midst of all this change, the college’s values– “exercising responsibility, embracing diversity, advancing equity, upholding integrity, cultivating compassion, and fostering collaboration between the college and the community”– haven’t changed. “We are still the community’s college,” said Smith.

According to the article on Oakton’s website, “Name Change Frequently Asked Questions”, current students won’t be affected by the name change. “There will be no changes to the classroom or educational experience, and the change will not impact the transferability of any earned credits, financial aid, and other student support services,” stated the article. 

This prompts the question: if Oakton College is no different than Oakton Community College in terms of values, management, and quality, is the name change– and the resulting cost– warranted? 

“A potential increase in enrollment does not justify the waste produced from the rebrand,” said Zdenahlik. “As stated in Oakton College’s strategic plan “Connecting What Matters”, “Green initiatives have made sustainability a priority in a wide range of institutional practices, academic offerings, and in the use of the grounds and internal environment.”

There is also the discussion of stigma, and whether yielding to the stigma surrounding community colleges is worth the potential payoff of increased enrollment. By dropping the ‘community’, the stereotype may only be perpetuated. 

However, supporters of the name change claim that dropping the ‘community’ is a marketing strategy.

“I think dropping the community part from the college’s name is a good thing,” said Agan. “It will decrease the stigma about “community college” and I think that more people will enroll and want to come to this school.” 

The potential benefit may still be seen. Regardless, it will be interesting to see the class of 2023 graduate from Oakton College despite having applied to Oakton Community College.