College Basketball Championship Bonus: More Applications


When Villanova University’s men’s basketball team won the NCAA championship title last year, school officials couldn’t imagine the boon that would come in part from bringing home the shiny new trophy now on display at The Pavillion.

“We expected something, but this is more than I anticipated,” says Fr. Peter Donohue, president of Villanova.

Applications from prospective students skyrocketed, from 17,266 applications for the 2016 fall incoming class to 21,095 for the 2017 fall incoming class – a 22 percent increase.

Donohue noted that the school experienced a bump in applications after their previous men’s basketball championship in 1985, but nothing nearly as dramatic.

“I think some of it has to do with how the world has changed – the connection to social media and all those things,” he says. “We had people watching this game around the world.”

Indeed, Villanova received more than 50,000 media mentions during a one-month period during the tournament and was on the front page of nearly 200 newspapers across the country the morning after winning the title. Moreover, the basketball team’s followers on Twitter rose from 14,000 before the Big East conference tournament to more than 84,300 after the NCAA tournament.

That, in turn, increased the school’s social media with an additional 12,000 Facebook likes and 2,200 Twitter followers from March 17 to April 7, 2016.

Since last year’s win, Villanova has also experienced significant momentum on the fundraising side. The university surpassed its $600 million capital campaign goal 17 months early. The fundraising effort, slated to end in 2018, currently stands at $630 million. In addition, alumni giving have increased from 17 percent to 27 percent over the last eight years.

“Our alumni are far more enthusiastic of the place,” says Donohue. “They are very proud of being a Villanova graduate.”

Duke University, which won the men’s basketball championship in 2015, and the University of Connecticut, which won in 2014, also experienced bumps in applicants, though neither as substantial as Villanova’s.

“The impact is significant when you’re playing on a national stage and in the national championship and 35 million people are watching your school and watching your student athletes,” says Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations at Duke University. “The impact is significant if not incalculable.”

For Duke, which has become a household name in part because of its repeat appearances in the Final Four over the last three decades, application growth has doubled over the last seven years – though that’s largely in line with applicant growth at other large research universities.

“But is it a good thing for the university,” asks Schoenfeld. “Absolutely. Winning a title on the biggest stage in college sports, it galvanizes the university the community, your alumni.”

To be sure, the increased number of applicants, alumni giving and overall presence is not solely the result of winning the coveted title.

The University of Connecticut, for example, launched a major expansion of its science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, programs and had been on a major capital building initiative at the time of its win, which officials there say is likely more responsible for the applications increase.

“In a broader sense, though, having strong sports programs draws attention to UConn from people who might not otherwise have considered applying, and who might come across academic programs they like while they’re browsing on our website,” says Stephanie Reitz, spokeswoman for the university.

As for Villanova, it has been adding doctorate programs to its offerings and because of that, the Carnegie Foundation recently elevated it to the doctoral universities category from the master’s category, giving the university greater exposure.

“The national championship was kind of the icing on the cake – something we didn’t anticipate and bumped us over into a different stratosphere,” Donohue says.

Tags: sports, college athletics, NCAA, Villanova University, Duke University, college applications, education, University of Connecticut

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