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Student Recruitment Gets Boost from the Spotlight on UNLV

Hosting the final presidential debate helped put UNLV on the map for prospective students.

Campus News  |  Dec 1, 2016  |  By Deana Waddell
Screenshot of new website

When admissions counselor Kelsey Kaplan opened her inbox Oct. 20, she was greeted with the subject line “Love at first sight with UNLV.” Brennan Quinn, a high school junior in Georgia, sent the message just hours after watching the broadcast of the final Presidential Debate hosted by UNLV and wanted information “on all things UNLV.”

Arguing with his mother over what to watch — he wanted to see all the pre-debate coverage; she wanted to watch the Food Network until the debate actually started — was one of the best decisions of his life, Quinn said. He convinced her to change the channel just in time to see President Len Jessup’s opening address.

“After hearing about this college, I spent the entire night researching about everything UNLV,” the aspiring hotel owner wrote to Kaplan. “A hospitality management program six miles away from Las Vegas literally sounds too good to be true.”

Kaplan, in Seattle for a national college fair the week of the debate, said it wasn’t the first time her recruitment efforts had benefitted from UNLV hosting the debate. “It definitely helped. People recognize UNLV,” she said. “It put us on the map.”

Over the last year, Kristine Shay, executive director of admissions, encouraged recruiters to use the debate as a conversation starter and point of pride, particularly with prospective out-of-state students. While it will be some months before her office completes the current recruiting cycle, there already have been a few indications that the debate helped UNLV’s image and reputation, she said.

UNLV’s website experienced a huge traffic spike during the debate on both the debate-related pages as well as on general information pages. The Apply webpage showed an 82 percent increase over a typical Wednesday, while there was a 60 percent increase on people researching UNLV's academic programs and a 210 percent increase in UNLV News Center traffic.

And Quinn wasn’t the only person reacting to President Jessup’s speech — there was a 1,374 percent increase in page views on the president’s website during his talk. Likewise, his mention of the new UNLV School of Medicine prompted a 1,475 percent jump in traffic, with nearly 7,000 visitors to the school’s site on debate day.

UNLV's social media audiences grew substantially in October. Debate-related content by itself drew more engagement in October than is typical for an entire month's content. Compared to the monthly average, the Facebook account more than doubled the amount of new followers gained. On Twitter, #UNLVPresDebate garnered 4,400 tweets while #UNLV was tweeted 6,000 times, compared to the weekly average of 1,500.

UNLV’s media relations office conservatively estimates that UNLV faculty conducted more than 400 debate-related interviews with national and international media. For domestic television monitoring, combined clips for the keywords "University of Nevada, Las Vegas" and "UNLV" on an average day nears 100; on debate day, the count was 6,281. 

Had web communications not made several systems upgrades, there’s a good chance that Quinn and thousands of others who sought more information about UNLV would have encountered a crashed website on debate night. Until this summer, UNLV’s main website was hosted on a campus server and lacked redundancy for power, hardware, and server administrator personnel.

“A simple building power outage had brought the website down before,” said Joe Winton, director of web communications in the office of university communications. “So keeping the website online and responsive was a big focus for debate day.”

Winton and developers Phil Busche and Kurt Raschko transitioned to cloud-based website hosting and site optimization services. “These enhancements have taken us from an outdated and unstable web infrastructure to one that is on the cutting edge in terms of performance and security,” Winton said.

While the debate coverage around the world has helped UNLV’s name recognition, Shay believes that the preparations — which included the sprucing up of campus and several community engagement programs with local the school district and businesses — have also made a huge impact on prospective students. Even harder to quantify is the camaraderie that came from the cross-department collaborations the debate required.

“The sense of pride and of community was palpable on campus as we led prospective students through tours — it still is,” Shay explained. “Prospective students say they feel this welcoming environment on campus. While we may have a relatively low residential population, our campus doesn’t feel like a commuter campus. And that feel is a factor that make a huge difference in a prospective student’s decision on where to go.”

Shay hopes Quinn’s story is one of many and will continue to monitor the applications post-debate. “This could have really long-term effects,” she said.

As for Quinn, the debate has given the Atlanta native an option he hadn’t considered previously and he hopes to tour campus in December. “I will definitely place UNLV at the top of my list when I will be applying to college next year,” he said.