The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament is set to begin a little less than a month from now and a successful run can pump up more than a school’s spirit. According to a study of past tournament wins by Moody’s Investor Service, schools that were successful in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament directly correlated with a surge in student applications. “Enhanced demand can result in increased applications, higher net tuition revenue and greater fundraising,” the New York ratings agency said in their report.
Following the University of Connecticut’s two national championship wins in 2011 and 2015, applications at the school increased 27 and 35 percent in those respective years. In 2011 Virginia Commonwealth University was able to reach the final four as a double-digit seed, becoming only the third team in history to do so. As media coverage and homepage visits to the school’s website grew, so too did VCU’s freshman application numbers—by more than 15 percent from the previous year. Back in 2010, Butler saw a 43 percent boost in applications after a loss to Duke in the national championship game.
Long term, being consistent in the NCAA tournament can benefit schools beyond applications. Gonzaga University first made an unlikely run in 1999, when it advanced to the Elite Eight. Since then, the school has made the tournament eleven times, including the national championship game last year vs. North Carolina. In that time, Gonzaga’s enrollment has nearly doubled, undergraduate applications have grown 300 percent, and the school’s endowment has multiplied to $212 million. Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh said, “I think it’s fair to say there have been many initiatives…and the success of the basketball program has played a significant role in our ability to raise funds.” Over the past two decades, Gonzaga has also worked to increase financial aid, update infrastructure, and develop new programs for an evolving workforce. “Basketball has certainly been a major factor these 20 years in terms of people’s awareness of the university. We’ve certainly not missed the opportunity to capitalize on the success of the team and the appearance they’ve had on the national stage,” McCulloh said.
While Moody’s report identifies that the increase in applications may be temporary, it notes: “the publicity provided by the tournament can reach more potential students than a university might otherwise have the resources to pursue.” According to a report by economists Devin and Jaren Pope titled “Understanding College Applications Decisions: Why College Sports Success Matters,” the awareness provided by a sports victory to out-of-state students can be significant financially. For VCU the results of a final four run directly impacted enrollments and tuition revenue. In 2008, 92 percent of freshman were from Virginia. In 2012, in-state enrollment rates had decreased to 85 percent. Based on VCU’s 2012 admission’s rates, out-of-state students added an additional $3.4 million in tuition revenue.
In Gonzaga’s case, making the tournament helped spark the beginning of the university’s long-running success and branding. And as schools face the reality of seeking new solutions to funding shortages, a Cinderella run in March Madness may not be the complete answer, but it can certainly help.
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