(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — This semester marks the first time that PennWest Edinboro students have gathered under the university’s new moniker.

In July, the university made the official switch from its former name, Edinboro University, to PennWest Edinboro. But it’s not just a name. PennWest has combined three state universities into one integrated university at three locations — PennWest California, PennWest Clarion and PennWest Edinboro. The integration also created the second largest university in the commonwealth.

“It is a major transformation of not just one, but three institutions,” said Amanda Brown Sissem, the associate vice president for alumni engagement and Edinboro’s campus administrator. That transformation has come with challenges. One of the challenges has been changing the signage throughout Western Pennsylvania. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published a story on Sept. 4 chronicling that challenge (“What’s not in a name: Rebranding state system universities is a complex task”). Locally, the Edinboro team has been working to integrate the new branding along with the old. “We’re working through that process. We’re not backed by a massive corporate budget for a huge integration, so we’re working with the resources we have.”

Despite the challenges, and the lingering aged advertising, Sissem said the new name is garnering interest from prospective students. That’s translated into more than 2,000 incoming freshmen at PennWest (all three campuses) this semester. The decision to integrate campuses wasn’t Edinboro’s alone — it was a decision by Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education and was supported by the state Legislature. But it has led to positive results for Edinboro and its students.

“We want them to have an experience that meets their needs today. We needed to make changes so we could be more competitive and more prepared for the needs of our students. That very much has moved us and the state in this direction,” Sissem said.

While the name and the signage is visibly evident, the integration means more than just some words on a billboard. The integration means that three small state universities have taken their limited resources and pooled them together. That’s to the advantage of students. The days of needing a class and it not being offered until next year are all but over at PennWest. Now, if a student in Edinboro needs a class for their degree and it’s not offered locally until next year, that student can take the course at the California or Clarion campus.

“One of the things that was important was figuring out how we open up opportunities and choices but keep it affordable — with those tenets in mind, right now we offer more than 100 degree programs,” Sissem said.

For the past four years, the state has kept tuition unchanged. That’s good news for PennWest students. Of PennWest students, about 35% are first-generation college students, and more than 39% are eligible to receive the Pell Grant.

“The real challenge is figuring out how to create more options while maintaining affordability, and that’s our goal,” Sissem said.

The integration was developed in house — that’s to say, no company was hired to figure it all out. Staff and faculty were involved in the integration plans. Integration teams were created. Campus administrators were selected for each campus to lead integration teams. Now faculty and staff can collaborate directly and combine their talents and expertise.

“We’re still making a lot of the changes right now and really trying to make sure everyone comes along with us, helping each other, and trying to stay kind and patient, but we’re also seeing the fruits of our labor,” Sissem said. “As our region sees more of that, everybody will be more excited about where we’re headed.”

The athletics at each of the three campuses will remain separate.

While it may seem like the branding is a little muddy with the legacy brand next to the new brand in some areas, that’s also helping each campus preserve its respective identity. The Edinboro campus will continue to the be the home of the Edinboro Fighting Scots, it will still host the highland games and its own homecoming. That won’t change. And currently at the campus bookstore, Edinboro University logos are as prevalent as PennWest Edinboro logos. Those also won’t go totally away. Sissem said the bookstore will sport Edinboro State College and Edinboro University clothing for sale on a “legacy wall.”

This weekend, the 28th annual Highland Games and Scottish Festival will be held at PennWest Edinboro (Sept. 8-10). And this year’s homecoming will be celebrated Oct. 6-8.

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“We’re going to celebrate the way that we do at Edinboro,” Sissem said. That includes a golf outing, a barbecue, an open house at the alumni house, a parade, the Kilted Mile and the big game with alumni tailgates. “Wear out all that gear that you have, whether it’s Edinboro State College, Edinboro University or PennWest Edinboro.”