SALEM — There were a lot of smiles yesterday when Gov. Deval Patrick signed a bill renaming Salem State College as Salem State University.

Following the stroke of the governor's pen during a 1 p.m. ceremony on the Grand Staircase at the Statehouse, those in the packed hall broke into applause.

"We're just delighted," Salem State President Patricia Meservey said. "It's a wonderful accomplishment for the institution and for all of the new (state universities)."

The legislation renames six state colleges — Salem, Bridgewater, Fitchburg, Framingham, Westfield and Worcester — as state universities.

Three state colleges — Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and Massachusetts Maritime Academy — will keep their current names but will be part of the university system.

Two buses from Salem State drove into the ceremony filled with college officials, students, faculty, trustees and alumni.

Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, a Salem State graduate, and former Salem State President Nancy Harrington, now a member of the Board of Higher Education, both attended. Harrington campaigned for years for the name change.

Joining the state university system will increase the status of the state's public colleges, officials said, and open opportunities for students and for the institutions. It also will level the playing field, they said, since all but four states have incorporated their public colleges into universities.

"It's much more than a name change," Meservey said. "It's a recognition of what our institution has accomplished."

The change becomes official on Oct. 28 following a 90-day waiting period.

The name changes

1854: Salem Normal School

1932: Salem Teachers College

1960: Salem State College

2010: Salem State University

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