Thomas Edison State College has been granted New Jersey state approval to become Thomas Edison State University, the school announced Monday.

"We wanted to change the name to reflect the stature and complexity and growth, and particularly at the graduate level, that's occurred over the last seven or eight years," George A. Pruitt, the school's president, said.

"And so the name college wasn't really an accurate representation."

The Trenton-based school caters exclusively to adults, and is known for work on "prior-learning assessment," translating nonacademic work - such as skills acquired in the workforce - into college credit.

A Thomas Edison State University banner was placed across the main entrance Monday morning, and the school plans to put up a brick archway before its Kelsey/Townhouse complex, which serves as its executive center. Updated signage is being put in the school's eight buildings in Trenton.

In November, the New Jersey Presidents' Council unanimously recommended that the school receive university status. The next month, Rochelle Hendricks, the state's secretary of higher education, approved the change.

It became official Dec. 21, and university officials held off on a public announcement because of the holidays.

"Colleges are excellent institutions, and I want to repeat this: There's no qualitative difference between a college and a university," Pruitt said.

"There is a difference in scope, size, complexity, and whether there's a focus exclusively on undergraduate teaching or whether there's also inclusion of a comprehensive, broad-based graduate education."

Established in July 1972, the school was known as Edison College, with a first graduating class of 70 students receiving associate's degrees.

In 1973, the school became Thomas A. Edison College, and in 1980 became Thomas Edison State College.

The school enrolls more than 18,600 students in more than 100 areas of study, many of them online. It has several graduate programs, and is opening its first doctoral program, in nursing practice.

Pruitt's decision to pursue university status is based on the reality of what the school has become, he said.

"There isn't really any change in the institution. . . . It's changing the public face of the institution," Pruitt said, because the school has been acting as a university for several years.

"What we've been doing got us to where we are," he said. "We're going to keep doing it, and do more of it."

856-779-3220 @elaijuh