After all these years, Mary Washington is looking for a new name.

The college, which first opened in Fredericksburg in 1908, will seek university status in January 2001 to keep up with the rapidly growing educational demands of the region, President William Anderson said.

"The Fredericksburg area is booming, and projections now say that it's just going to continue [to grow]," Anderson said. "So we're studying all the formalities of moving to university status."

Because it is a fully funded state institution, Mary Washington's request to graduate from a college to a university must be approved by the General Assembly. If Mary Washington clears that hurdle, which officials anticipate, the school would be split into two main institutions.

The traditional campus in Fredericksburg would retain the name Mary Washington College and its mission as an undergraduate liberal arts school, with an enrollment of about 4,000 students.

The James Monroe Center for Graduate and Professional Studies, which opened in Stafford County in August, would be renamed the James Monroe College of Graduate and Professional Studies. It would be the home of any future expansion of the school. The two colleges would operate under an undetermined university name.

The James Monroe Center has, so far, exceeded enrollment expectations and is a major impetus in the school's move to attain university status, Anderson said. As a college, Mary Washington is limited in its ability to expand, but as a university the school could keep pace with the rapidly changing needs of its students.

In particular, the school is eager to meet the needs of the area's growing high-technology and professional work force.

"There's a wealth of talent out there, and this is a way to get that talent ready to go," Anderson said. "By going to a university concept here, it gives us all the flexibility in the world. Universities have broader guidelines; we'll have more room to be able to put together disciplines or programs to serve different clientele."

In addition to the administrative advantages of becoming a university, there is a prestige factor with the status, school officials said.

"Certainly to have the two operations under university status would bring more prestige for the overall operation," Anderson said.

The name and identity change would not be the first for Mary Washington--it would be the seventh for the constantly evolving school.

The school was founded in 1908 as the State Normal and Industrial School for Women, and six years later it dropped the "Industrial" part of its title. In 1924, the school dropped the name altogether and became the State Teachers College.

That caused confusion because of all the other colleges for teachers in Virginia. So, in 1938, the General Assembly changed the name to Mary Washington College, in honor of George Washington's mother.

In 1944 the name was expanded to Mary Washington College of the University of Virginia, with the college serving as the women's division of U-Va. Women were admitted to U-Va. in 1970, and in 1972 the college separated from the university and dropped its name.

If the change is approved, Mary Washington would join a growing number of schools that have upgraded from college to university. In Virginia, 10 of the state's 15 four-year public colleges have become universities.