Want to raise your school’s profile? Snag a presidential debate like Lynn U. did

If you’re a small, private university with a less-than-stellar reputation, what’s a good way to boost your profile?

For Lynn University it was a no-brainer: Host one of the most important events in American politics.

“We’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time,” says Dr. Kevin Ross, Lynn University’s president.

The “moment” arrives on Monday, when President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney arrive on Lynn’s Boca Raton campus for the third and final presidential debate before Election Day.

Lynn doesn’t have a famous sports team like the University of Miami’s Hurricanes. It doesn’t boast the sort of research center that brings pride to the University of Florida. Lynn is so little known outside of South Florida, that the school just couldn’t help taking a swipe at its own non-celebrity status. The front of its official debate T-shirt reads simply: “We’ve never heard of you, either.”

Nineteen-year-old Lynn sophomore Robbie Walsh says he gets a lot of that whenever he visits friends and family back in home in Maryland.

"They have to double-take and they go, ’Lynn University? What?’" Walsh says. “And then I have to tell them it’s in Boca Raton, Florida.”

Best-kept secret

The debate — and its accompanying media blitz — comes just two years after what university officials call their darkest hour. In 2010, four students and two faculty members were killed in the Haiti earthquake during a relief mission.

And in the past year since Lynn snagged the event, its 2,000 students have watched a quiet campus turn into a hotbed of nonstop activity.

American Studies Professor Robert Watson says he and other Lynn faculty members have always joked that the university was the best-kept secret in Florida.

“Not anymore,” Watson says. “Not even the students at Harvard, I always remind my students, have this opportunity this particular semester."

The Price Of Fame

If hosting a presidential debate has raised some small colleges and universities from near obscurity to national prominence, it also comes with a hefty price tag: Lynn has spent $5 million getting ready for its star turn. But Commission on Presidential Debates Co-Chair Mike McCurry says the university can expect a solid return on the investment.

“Washington University in St. Louis, by hosting three debates — they’ve become a national brand now,” McCurry says.

“And this certainly boosted their enrollment, their interest, their applications and even helped them attract faculty members,” he says. “And I think that Lynn will expect to see that kind of prominence.”