A behind-the-signs story

By Tim Engle

For a Missouri college, getting new highway signs involved fortitude and some legislative legwork.

The new year brought new Metropolitan Community College (MCC) signs to highways and interstates around Kansas City.

Ho-hum. Right?

Actually, it was an undertaking so complicated, it required a new state law to make it happen.

The old signs — in some cases at least 25 years old — didn’t even use the correct names of the campuses. Since 2005, when MCC started marketing itself as one college with five campuses, each campus’ official name has been Metropolitan Community College-Blue River, Metropolitan Community College-Maple Woods etc. (MCC-Blue River, MCC-Maple Woods etc. for short).

The state-installed MCC “wayfinding” signs, meanwhile, didn’t refer to MCC, Metropolitan or Community at all. Instead, they called our campuses “Blue River College,” “Maple Woods College” and the like.

Just replace the signs, right?

Not so fast. New signs would have to adhere to Missouri law, which by then differentiated between two-year colleges and four-year colleges.

“Two-year schools could only get the smaller grouped signs like you see for food or hotels, listing all of the colleges that were at the next exit,” says Michael Banks, a recently retired MCC vice chancellor and campus president. “Whereas the four-year schools could get the larger stand-alone signs with only the school’s name on it.”

MCC and the Missouri Community College Association lobbied state legislators to change the law. This was a passion project for former MCC Chancellor Mark James, who retired without seeing new, properly named MCC signs go up.

Finally, in 2017, the Missouri General Assembly approved Senate Bill 225, a hodgepodge of transportation measures that addressed college road signs. Then-Gov. Eric Greitens signed the bill into law that June.

The law states that “two-year colleges shall qualify for substantially the same signs as traditional four-year colleges, irrespective of differences in student housing or types of degrees offered.”

The bill’s passage was seen as a victory for the state’s 12 community colleges. Before the legislative session ended, East Central College President Jon Bauer told a newspaper that not allowing community colleges to purchase the same signage as four-year schools was unfair.

Following Missouri Department of Transportation rule making, sign design approvals and the like, the MCC Board of Trustees in April 2019 approved a contract for almost $79,000 to remove and replace the old highway signs for the Blue River, Longview, Maple Woods and Penn Valley campuses.

Last December, the MoDOT-approved contractor started changing out the MCC signs. The new ones along highways and interstates contain not only the full name of the college and the individual campus but also the MCC logo’s blue ball.

“They are somewhat larger, more visible and better located than some of the old signs,” says Jeff Ullmann, MCC’s chief facilities officer.

Up next: updating campus directional signs on city streets, which will complete the transformation.

“As you travel around town, you should notice the new MCC highway signs. Yes, finally, they are posted!” Chancellor Kimberly Beatty wrote in an “MCC on the Move” memo to employees in January.

“As you know, this effort took legislative action and a lot of hard work by the last chancellor, Mr. Mark James. Now, people will see us as Metropolitan Community College.”

See more photos and read the original article here.

Tim Engle

is a communications analyst at Metropolitan Community College in Kansas City, Missouri.