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Kevin M. Ross

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Hosting the Final Presidential Debate: Was It Worth It?

Posted: 02/05/2013 6:09 pm

As you may or may not know, Lynn University hosted the final presidential debate of the 2012 election. I'm often asked by members of our community and the media, "Was it worth it?" Was the presidential debate worth all the hard work and money spent? So I thought I would use my first blog for The Huffington Post College to answer that question.

The first point to make in regards to this question is that we did not do this on a lark. We thought deeply about what we wanted to get out of the event and developed some specific goals. Three of the main ones were to engage our students and the community, increase our name recognition and improve our campus.

Of our goals, we placed the highest value on student engagement. In this regard, the debate paid off and then some. In the fall semester leading up to the debate, students participated in the 80 debate-related courses offered (like "The Presidency on Film" or "Rude Democracy: Words, Sticks and Stones"), and we brought a number of debate-related events and speakers to our campus to further supplement their experience. Then when the weekend of the debate finally arrived, our students were front and center for this historic moment. They had the opportunity to serve as ushers in the debate hall, student story-tellers in the media filing center and runners for major news outlets. A lucky group even sat in the debate hall audience after winning tickets through a lottery system. They also had the chance to go on additional debate-related trips before and after the big event. Five Lynn communications students reported from the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, and another group of students recently came back from witnessing President Obama's second inauguration (this is a fun story from Danish TV). He even gave them all a "thumbs up" after recognizing our school's name on one of the students' scarves.

Working with the community was also important because we're a small, independent school, so we're always looking for an opportunity to let our neighbors know what we can offer. This event gave our campus a wonderful chance to connect with the various groups in our community. Members of our local government, law enforcement, business, education, tourism and arts and cultural sectors collaborated in the planning stages, and the level of support was incredible. We also invited the community into our campus for several debate-related events. And the local business community showed a lot of support. We ended up with 208 Official Small Business Partners. Our faculty also worked side-by-side with Palm Beach County Schools to produce a free K-12 debate curriculum, which was downloaded almost 13,000 times on iTunes U.

The debate on Oct. 22, 2012, also made it possible for us to launch one of higher education's most extensive use of tablets for learning. The construction of a digital infrastructure for the campus was one of the largest investments the school had to make to meet the major technological demands of the debate. We always understood that we would keep this newly expanded network and immediately began thinking of how they could use it after the debate.

These benefits and the more quantitative ones are reviewed in the study we just released, Hosting the Final Presidential Debate of 2012 - An Examination of Impact and Associated Benefits. Among other data, the study examines the immediate $13.1 million positive economic impact on our community the debate generated and the $63 million in publicity value it provided for Lynn and the surrounding community, including more than 33,000 news stories. These numbers were higher than we ever envisioned.

We never expected to be selected as the site for the final presidential debate on our first time applying, and we are now the youngest university ever to host one of the largest, most complex events any higher education institution can hope to hold. Lynn is a small, independent institution, so we wanted to have some fun as we got our name out there. As a result, at the beginning of this process, our university created a very popular debate t-shirt that said "We've never heard of you, either." The historic debate at Lynn had 59.2 million viewers -- so we know that more people now know about what we do at Lynn University.

For these reasons and many more, it was absolutely a worthwhile experience for our students and our community.

 
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