Jul 10, 2009

Flushing Out the Truth

On Monday, I had the pleasure of touring the University of Denver (DU) campus. Located in a corner of the city easily accessible by light rail, DU is a wonderful school with lovely grounds and a welcoming atmosphere. Unlike its much larger neighbor in Boulder, DU made me feel at home. The school provided downloadable parking passes to foil roving university meter maids and conducted the information session in a comfortable air conditioned lecture hall co-located with the admissions office. In other words, I didn’t have to scramble around the campus looking for a cramped, airless room in the faculty club.

So what? Well, attention to detail goes directly to the whole question of first impressions. It’s no secret that high school students make snap decisions about colleges and universities based on some deep dark antenna system to which parents and counselors have no easy access. “Did you see what those kids were wearing? I could never go to school here.” “The freshman dorms don’t have laundries. Forget it.” “Something smelled funny in the library. I don’t think I’d like it here.” And so on. I’ve even heard of students driving long distances to tour a school only to arrive and refuse to get out of the car. No good reason given. It just looked wrong.

But back to DU. While on tour, I had my professional college counselor hat on. I asked annoying questions about completion rates and admissions statistics. I quizzed the tour guide about social life, dorm configurations, and meal tickets. Yet, I missed the single key factor on which at least one major university consultant organization judged competing colleges: the quality of toilet facilities. Yes, the University of Delaware recently won a nation-wide competition for best campus restrooms (large school category). And I didn't think to look.

So what does this mean? It means that Delaware and Alabama’s Birmingham-Southern College (small school category) take care with the kinds of detail that appeal to visitors and market the school, producing conscious or subliminal reactions that translate into like or dislike. Birmingham-Southern won because the school put out toiletries (lotion, toothbrushes, toothpaste, mouthwash, deodorant, etc.) for visitors; UD won because of large dignified marble facilities. I didn’t judge the contest, but I get the idea. You can feed visitors amazing statistics and present a glamorous 3-D virtual tour of your campus, but if the bathrooms are questionable or the information sessions are uncomfortable, all the expensive marketing is in vain. Petty? Maybe. Disrespectful of budget priorities? Perhaps. But sometimes, you just can’t help how you feel.

1 comment:

  1. I love your blog. I try to keep up at least every week. Only you would mention the toilets!


    You have a valid point about comfort. I hated the UCLA tour because there was no information session in an air conditioned room. Instead, we had a two hour tour with a student with no chance to sit other than on concrete steps. As someone with a bad back, I was dying. I felt that their attitude was "we get more appications than any other school in the country. We don't need to sell you."