When I visited GW as a prospective student, I was told by admissions staff that “something happens here.” Looking back, I’m reminded of the familiar NBA tagline: “Where amazing happens.” In some ways, GW has a lot in common with the NBA. Both promote themselves as the definition of excitement, competition and ‘life-changing’ experiences. Based on my last experience at an NBA game, it was clear the players gave minimal effort for the first three quarters (if you’ve seen the Wizards, you know what I mean). I left the arena thinking, “Did I seriously pay that much to see such poor performance? Is there any respect for the fans that paid to see four quarters of basketball, not just one?”
Recently, The Hatchet published editorials and op-eds articulating GW’s lack of school spirit, disenchantment over student access to President Knapp and frustration with student input at GW. Some may see these claims as unsubstantiated, but they are indicative of discontent. Having dissatisfied students has long-reaching effects. For example, according to a study released last June by the American Enterprise Institute, GW’s 78 percent graduation rate ranks 75th out of the 81 “most selective” universities. Although this is partially attributed to tuition costs, which the school has worked to defray, it would be irresponsible to think this is the sole cause of having nearly 1 in every 4 students leave GW without a degree. In a world defined by slogans, the problem here is GW lacks a cohesive brand to sell – not just to prospective students, but to those who are already here. Students need a sense of community, something that is absent in Foggy Bottom (and on Mount Vernon too.)
Creating a powerful, marketable GW brand could improve graduation rates, curb student dissatisfaction and improve GW’s performance in college rankings. In order to establish an effective brand, President Knapp must work toward honoring the promise made at his inauguration as president of GW to build stronger relationships with the surrounding business and political communities. For many, being in D.C. is the draw to attending GW. The chance to start building a résumé and have ‘only in D.C.’ experiences are huge selling points. Some students, however, are often forced to find these opportunities with minimal aid from the university. This must change. Students should want to come here not just to be in Washington, but because GW’s administration can provide them with the inside-track to opportunities in Washington. The paradigm of students coming to GW for D.C. must become students coming to D.C. for GW. In part, this can be done by expanding GWork by better promoting the internship database for all GW students and allowing the University to maintain contact with organizations. This will keep important internships within the GW community. Actions like these are essential in developing student loyalty, and would become a crucial selling point in attracting stronger students to GW.
It is common knowledge that people perform better when motivated and recognized for their accomplishments. One of the biggest disappointments with this University has been the utter failure of GW’s administration to properly recognize student achievements. The Columbian College of Arts and Sciences did not publicly publish its Dean’s List during either semester last year and did not personally notify those who had been selected by sending a letter to parents. President Knapp has been extremely vocal about the need to connect with the parents of students and alumni, but CCAS did not inform them of the very thing that they want to hear: their child is succeeding. If GW wants students to develop loyalty to the school, which translates into increased alumni participation and donations, they need to do more than a small, unpublicized newsletter. A simple solution is ensuring that hard-copy, congratulatory letters from deans are sent home, or giving public recognition from the president’s office for those who make Dean’s List or have other notable achievements while at GW. This will make students feel appreciated by their university and provide motivation for others to improve.
We can no longer afford to be like the NBA – lots of hype with little delivery – and provide an underwhelming college experience. There are too many affordable, comparable options for undergraduate education. GW cannot continue to be the school of “something might potentially happen here if you fight hard enough.” It needs to become the school of “something happens here because we make it happen.” If we want to realize our goal of becoming D.C.’s premiere educational institution, a goal that is reachable in the near future, GW needs to shift its focus back toward serving its students. The GW brand of providing students with the finest opportunities in the District, catering further to the success of current students and recognizing these students’ success has the potential to create a sense of community and student loyalty that is lacking at the moment. And as we see everyday in politics, business or any other collaborative environment – loyalty goes a very long way.
The writer is a sophomore majoring in political science.
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