The Graduate School of Political Management wants students to know it can help them thrive in a culture of partisan sniping, shifting its marketing focus after a year of declining student interest.
Director Mark Kennedy, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota who took over last January, said the school will highlight lessons in campaigning and legislative dealing rather than policy.
Applications to the school dipped 22 percent last year, pushing enrollment down by 14 percent. The decline came after a year of stagnant enrollment following two years of about 35 percent gains.
In previous promotion efforts, headed by three marketing heads in five years, the school would sometimes advertise itself as “nonpartisan,” Kennedy said.
“We [called] ourselves nonpolitical. We are not nonpolitical. Why would you come to GSPM if you aren’t political, if you weren’t partisan,” Kennedy said. “We don’t care what policy you’re trying to advance; we’re here to teach you how to advance it.”
Kennedy said he is trying to reach more potential students who want to learn the ins and outs of campaign strategy, speechwriting, polling, PR and new media. He will travel to Utah, California and North Carolina to recruit, a role his predecessors did not have.
“He got the mandate to be much more visible,” Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Planning Forrest Maltzman said.
GSPM, housed in the College of Professional Studies, is one of the University’s smallest schools. The marketing campaign – a new website and brochure – will launch this month.
Kennedy has personally pushed to make the school more visible by blogging for both sides of the political spectrum: FoxNews.com and The Huffington Post.
The former conservative congressman, who was in the House of Representatives from 2001 to 2007, said becoming the director of a partisan but “all-encompassing” school has been “a learning experience for me as well, because the terminology that you use cannot wittingly be red or blue.”
Kennedy voted with his party 91 percent of the time, according to a Washington Post congressional database. He reached across the aisle to support a ban on cruel treatment of detainees in 2005, but voted to pass a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage in two failed attempts in 2004 and 2006.
Unsteady leadership prior to Kennedy’s arrival last year might have also derailed recruitment efforts. The school saw 18 months of faculty strife, interim leaders and internal debates over its trajectory. Its acceptance rate also crept up to two-thirds from 60 percent last year. Just one of the 23 applicants to a legislative affairs program, which are narrowed down in a U.S. Army-GSPM partnership, was rejected last year.
“I think the transition nature of the leadership impacted it. There was a lack of clear focus on reaching out every day and telling our story,” Kennedy said. “I’m not sure if we just relied on word of mouth but I still find people at GW that don’t know that GSPM is here.”
Kennedy has planned over the last year to add more full-time professors to the school’s “skeletal” faculty core and improve its research portfolio.
Maltzman said enrollment also might have fallen last year because it was election season, which would have put potential GSPM students out on the road with campaigns.
The College of Professional Studies will now control marketing efforts for its umbrella school, which has resulted in the sharing of talents and expertise as well as more streamlined operations leading to efficiencies,” Dean Ali Eskandarian said in an email.
The college hired this month Jonathan Akman, a new senior recruitment and enrollment specialist, to focus on boosting student outreach.
“There’s a renewed enthusiasm here,” Akman, an alumnus, said. “There are a lot of institutions where politics is taught, but the applied tenant is what makes this school unique.”
Lauren Grady contributed to this report
This article was updated Feb. 20, 2013 to reflect the following:
The Hatchet reported that 23 out of 24 applicants were accepted to the Graduate School of Political Management’s legislative affairs program. This is true, but the program is actually a partnership between GSPM and the U.S. Army. The army narrows the candidate pool down from hundreds of applicants and the school picks the top students that the army recommends.