How FGCU's run can benefit admissions

Every March grown adults anxiously anticipate a Cinderella story. This one doesn’t have a glass slipper or a fairy godmother, but it’s no less a fairytale than Disney’s classic princess story.

This year, Florida Gulf Coast has been cast in the role of Cinderella, and it’s playing out beautifully as the first No. 15 seed in history to make it into the Sweet 16.

Those left back on campus to answer media requests and inquiries by prospective students aren’t getting much sleep this week, but no doubt they’re loving every minute.

The most obvious and immediate financial impact comes from sales at the school bookstore, which haven’t slowed all week. By the end of the day Monday, sales for the month of March were up 521 percent to $34,034 for women’s apparel and hats and 686 percent to $114,870 for men’s apparel and hats compared to the same time period last year. By the end of day Wednesday, women’s sales were up by 785 percent to $48,677 and $223,810 made on the sale of men’s apparel and hats topped the same time period in 2012 by 1,240 percent.

The real money to be made, however, is in increased awareness of the university that leads to more applications. From March 21 to March 25, unique visitors to the admissions page on FGCU’s website leaped from 2,280 to 42,793. Overall visits to the school’s website topped out on Monday at 230,985, not counting the 117,113 who went directly to the athletics page. In the month leading up to FGCU’s advancing to the Sweet 16, visitors to the website had seen a daily count as low as 18,863.

What do all those hits mean? FGCU says it’s too early to have seen a bump in applications just yet. If we look at the experience of other Cinderellas, however, we can get an idea.

Studies commissioned by Butler after its 2010 and 2011 runs to the national title game suggest FGCU is getting plenty of publicity around the nation -- attention it couldn’t afford if the school had to go out and buy it. Studies done by media firms Borschoff and Meltwater found Butler received a combined publicity value of $1.2 billion during the 2010 and 2011 tournaments. Butler has seen its applications increase by 52 percent from 6,246 for the fall 2009 incoming class to 9,518 for the fall 2011 class.

Virginia Commonwealth University has a similar experience. The Rams made it to the Final Four in 2011 and into the third round last year. Applications to VCU saw a 2 percent increase for the fall of 2011 and another 20 percent increase for the fall of 2012. Most importantly with regard to revenue generation, however, VCU’s entering class has included more and more out-of-state students.

Economists and brothers Devin and Jaren Pope have studied the impact sports can have on university admissions. Their study titled “Understanding College Application Decisions: Why College Sports Success Matters,” concluded by saying, ““While a sports victory for a given school may not change the awareness of in-state students regarding its existence, the sports victory may present a significant shock in attention/awareness for out-of-state students.”

This has certainly been true for VCU. In the fall of 2008, 92 percent of first-time freshmen were from the state of Virginia. However, by the fall of 2012 that number had decreased to 85 percent.

Why are out-of-state students so important? For the 2012-13 school year, out-of-state students at VCU paid $13,415 more than in-state students. The difference between having just 8 percent out-of-state students (as VCU did in 2008) and 15 percent (as VCU did in 2012) could amount to $3.4 million based on VCU’s fall 2012 enrollment and tuition rates.

FGCU has plenty of room to grow when it comes to attracting out-of-state students. In the fall of 2011, 91 percent of first-time freshmen at FGCU were from the state of Florida. Like VCU, there’s a sizeable difference between FGCU’s in-state and out-of-state tuition rates: $634.79 per credit hour, to be exact.

Another study by the Pope brothers, published in 2009, suggests FGCU might also be able to enroll a better incoming class in coming years thanks to its basketball success.

The study concluded, “… schools which do well in basketball are able to recruit an incoming class with 1 to 4 percent more students scoring above 500 on the math and verbal SAT. Similarly, these schools could expect 1 to 4 percent more of their incoming students to score above a 600 on the math and verbal SAT.”