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Contemporary American higher education completely captured in just 248 words

From Andrew Ferguson's terrific book, Crazy U: One Dad's Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College, pp. 113-14.

. . . Tulane was underperforming for years because it didn't play to its strengths. The only thing the viewbooks talked about was academics: kids in the library, kids in the lab. All the deans and professors insisted on it. They said, We already have a rep as a party school, let's stress our great academics.

Right. Snooze. Surprise, surprise: apps down, SATs down, tuition revenue down.

A new dean brought in a branding agency. They did the focus groups--college students, applicants, high school students. And it jumped right out at them: Excuse me, we're in freakin' New Orleans! They cooked up a viewbook with Mardi Gras colors, lots of New Orleans, rich cultural heritage, diversity, gumbo, streetcars, jazz, the Quarter at night . . . and response went straight up. You could chart it on a graph, like a hockey stick. Same search, same kind of names. But different brand.

Response rate, up. Yield, up, SAT scores, up, GPAs, up. More kids from the top 10 percent of their class than ever before. They're climbing the page at U.S. News. And the number of full-pays, the kids who don't need aid: way, way up.

Why? A lotta rich kids think it'd be neat to live in New Orleans. Mom and dad will pay for it if they think it's about college, even if the kids know different. Being a good school wasn't enough. Being a good school in New Orleans--now you can make a sale.