A wry symbol on a text message.
Last fall, that was the first inkling Lynn University President Kevin Ross had that his school would be making the history books.
“I was out at lunch and got a text that said, ‘You need to come back to campus immediately,’" recalls Ross. “And it was with a smiley-face after it. So I knew it was good.”
When Ross got back to his office, he learned that Lynn University was on the short list to host one of the presidential debates of 2012. Within days, the school was chosen as the site for the final face-off between President Obama and Mitt Romney before Election Day.
“You can’t pick everybody”
The Commission on Presidential Debates Co-Chair Mike McCurry says several dozen colleges and universities applied to get one of those smiley-faces.
“The demands on these universities, even a smaller school, are considerable,” says McCurry. “And so the ones that really pull it together and show the enthusiasm and demonstrate that they’re going to get the job done, it sort of self-narrows down to a handful. There are always some losers, but unfortunately, you can’t pick everybody.”
Debate media blitz lures students
And for the winners, particularly small schools, the sudden media exposure has its benefits.
“Lynn is getting really well known now,” says 19-year-old Lynn sophomore Robbie Walsh. “I think after this debate, the enrollment’s going to skyrocket.”
McCurry says small schools that play host to Presidential debates generally get more students as a result. He cites the example of Washington University in St. Louis – a three-time debate host.
“They’ve become a national brand now. And this certainly has boosted their enrollment, their interest, their applications and even helped them attract faculty members.”
All told, Lynn University has spent $5 million preparing its Boca Raton campus for the debate. But McCurry says the reward is a windfall of publicity.
“That’s the return on investment that they get for all the hard work they’ve done to raise the money, do the work and prepare for the debate.”