Why would a university want to host a presidential debate?

Research shows a reputation boost

Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL) says its nearly $5 million investment to host an upcoming presidential debate is definitely worth the investment.

The October 9 presidential debate will be WUSTL's fifth time hosting such an event. Officials say the university regularly volunteers to host for the thrilling experience it creates for faculty and students—and for the tremendous exposure it brings to the university.

A recent study by Royall & Company, a division of EAB, found that hosting a presidential debate in 2012 gave Hofstra University a measurable reputation boost. After the debate, prospective students were:

  • 87% more likely to see Hofstra as a nationally prominent university;
  • 45% more likely to see Hofstra as a prestigious university; and
  • 43% more likely to see Hofstra as a highly respected university.

The results are based on survey responses from more than 3,000 prospective students.

WUSTL students anticipate the debate with excitement. As sophomore Gordie Rohrback puts it, "This is really a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

For those who aren't able to actually attend the debate, campus events spread the excitement.

From student-hosted mock debates to debate-themed art exhibits, "the campus transforms," says Steve Givens, the school's debate chair.

The experience sticks with them. Givens says alumni tell him they still remember the debates and became more engaged citizens after experiencing them.

Givens explains that WUSTL can also appreciate infrastructure upgrades that come from hosting the debate. Construction projects required before the debate—such as installing bathrooms in coaches' offices in the athletic complex so candidates can have their own makeshift private suites—remain long after the debate has come and gone.

For college leaders who might now be thinking of volunteering to host in the future, Givens points out that WUSTL might make it look easy only because they've done it before.

"I have said over and over that I'm really glad I'm not doing this for the first time," he tells the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "You don't know what you don't know, and you go crazy wondering what it's going to be like"(Carter, Education Dive,9/30; Jost, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 9/29).

Related: 4 universities to host 2016 presidential, VP debates


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