Just as the University of South Dakota has commonly been known as the U. for promotion purposes, the university may also tag a new moniker on to Vermillion in an effort to attract students.
Vermillion would be known as U-Town in efforts currently being considered by USD and marketing personnel.
"The current students talk about Vermillion as one of the leading reasons that they stay at the University of South Dakota, so that's something that stood out in my mind," said Jeffrey Baylor, vice president of marketing, enrollment and student services at the university, addressing the June 7 noon meeting of the Vermillion City Council. "We also realize that you offer many opportunities to our students, and our students bring financial resources to the community.
"So it made sense to talk about how we could bridge this university experience with the community experience," he said.
U-Town is strictly a concept, he emphasized. The idea is still in an early development phase, and no final decisions on whether this term ultimately would be used has yet been made.
"It's a concept of creating a marriage between the university and the town, and ultimately to provide the students with the best possible experience that they may have," Baylor said. "And when you think of the competition across the region … it's a fierce environment out there right now. The demographics for high school graduates in South Dakota are on the decline, and yet we've seen record applications, so that's a really good indicator for us."
Baylor's meeting with the city council was strictly to seek feedback, not formal action from the governing body.
"Often times, when we talk with students and affected families about their visit, about their first year – some students who come year eventually decide to leave, but most students who decide to stay say they do so because of Vermillion," Baylor said. "Some of the students who decide to not return also say it's because of Vermillion. We hear things all across the board.
"I don't think folks know all of the things that we can offer," he said. "I don't think they really understand the experience they get here in Vermillion. It's a wonderful college town; I've worked in three other states at three other institutions, and as far as I'm concerned, this is as good as it gets."
The U-Town concept also incorporates proposed signage on major city streets to help direct new students and families to important areas of the community and major campus buildings.
"The plan includes a way to direct families into town, on to campus, and most importantly, downtown," Baylor said. "As a person responsible for getting families here to visit, until about less than a year ago, we didn't do a very good job in showing off downtown Vermillion, where the storefronts are full and you now have vibrant business."
This concept's goal is to attract more students to the university, and also to have them continue their educations at USD.
"I believe that will drive economic opportunities for the town and for the region," Baylor said.
"I think recruiting students, at every level, be they in elementary school or at the university, is one of the most important jobs we can do," Mayor Dan Christopherson said. "That means bringing in families and faculty members, and it's just something that we can all work on, so anything we can do to help recruit students is a positive thing, and I think a campaign like this is fantastic.
"I love the U-Town concept," he added. "That's something I hadn't thought about, but it makes a lot of sense."
Alderman Mary Edelen suggested that some consideration be given to using the term U-City rather than U-Town.
"I think the idea, at least for me, is that a town is a really small place, whereas as a city is a bigger place," she said. "Is that something intentional – do you want the Vermillion community and the university community to be really small, or to be broader and bigger?"
"Town is something that we came up with, but we're still open to other ideas," Baylor said. "Should we decide to pursue this collectively, we will put together a campaign that will be high-end for us. For the university, this is very important, and I'm sure it is as well for the town and the residents and business owners.
"This could be a huge opportunity for us, as an institution that is changing, with our athletics, our facilities and the infrastructure investment that's been unprecedented. We could get some attention that we normally wouldn't get," he said, "so we have to be very careful about how we take this out to the public and what the message will be."