A New Trend in Marketing: Cruising the USS Colgate

Kathryn David

Hanging out in the hall on a lazy Monday night, my fellow freshmen and I were discussing how, while heavily relying on our ‘Gate Cards, none of us had used real currency since we’ve been here. “I feel like we’re on a cruise ship,” remarked one of my hallmates. Apart from the obvious ‘Gate Card similarity, we all began to see many other comparisons. As on a cruise, we are surrounded by new people our age, have millions of activities to choose from every night and have an unlimited meal plan. I was beginning to believe this analogy was holding up pretty nicely until I realized that we were all forgetting one important component of college that you typically cannot find on a cruise ship: classes and other intellectual pursuits. Unfortunately, today colleges are being marketed more like an elite vacation instead of a place of learning. While joking around about the USS Colgate is harmless, when this mentality extends into the classroom, it presents real problems about the future of college education.

At an intellectual place like Colgate, I doubt that any of us came here for the sky suites or for the chipwiches presented to us on our tours. When it comes down to deciding where you want to go to college, it is typically a question of good academics in the classroom and a good fit in the social realm. However, on most of the college tours I went on, professors and classes seemed almost an afterthought compared to facilities, food, residence halls and Greek life. Talking to my friends and family, as well as hearing from professors, this is becoming the norm at most colleges. When my mom and sister toured Tulane University, the tour guide went on and on about the state-of-the-art gym, ending his ode with, “Some people come here just for the gym.” My mother told my sister she felt $40,000 a year was a little too expensive for a gym membership.

When my friend visited a small Florida liberal arts school, the tour guide talked so much about how close the dorms were to the beach, she felt like she was at more of a real estate convention than a college tour. When I toured Emory University, my tour guide spent the bulk of the tour talking about the Bed, Bath and Beyond-decorated model dorm room than any other aspects of the university. Of course, gyms, beaches and a pretty dorm room are all things that can make college a better experience, but these frills should hardly be the focus of colleges’ marketing today. My sister is now a senior at Tulane, and although she does go to the gym everyday she spends much more time talking about her great Asian Studies professors than the elliptical machine. My friend found the most exciting part of her visit to the Florida school was seeing sign-up sheets for a special intersession class with Elie Wiesel, even though the beaches were beautiful. The 30 seconds my Emory tour guide spent talking about research opportunities with professors were much more memorable than a cookie-cutter, expertly-coordinated dorm room.

Whatever this new trend in marketing, while it may be bringing in more applications, it is sending the wrong message to students. In UVA Professor Mark Edmundson’s piece, “On the Uses of a Liberal Education,” he laments the fact that this type of marketing attracts students looking for “a retirement community for the young,” where class is just another passive activity on the community bulletin board. The numbers of passionate students committed to academics, he observes, are dwindling. With this kind of marketing, I believe they will continue to dwindle. $40,000 is too expensive for a cruise, but it is a good value for the best professors, the most intellectually curious peers and educational opportunities of a lifetime. I’m not advocating that we get rid of the chipwiches on the tour, but maybe prospective students can enjoy their frozen treats after having an equally satisfying discussion with one of Colgate’s many passionate and accomplished faculty members.