Jimmy Loomis, a 21-year-old senior who heads the school’s College Democrats and serves as the treasurer of the St. Louis County Democratic Central Committee, said there was “palpable excitement” on campus, and that the debate promised to be a day students “would remember for the rest of their lives”—even if security was “not going to be the most enjoyable.” Loomis, who is studying politics and Chinese, said his professors have led discussions and assigned essays around the debate.
For some schools, hosting a debate can even mean a chance to recruit new students who might not have considered attending previously. As the Associated Press noted recently, a survey suggested that high-school students were more likely to have a positive perception of the University of Denver after a 2012 debate there between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Applications, the wire service pointed out, also rose by 5,000 at Hofstra after it hosted a debate that same year. Centre College, in Kentucky, reportedly saw an increase in both applications and alumni donations after it hosted the vice presidential debate in 2000, too.
Givens, who also serves as associate vice chancellor, said that while there has been a rise in applications to the university over the years, and that there may be students who apply or visit the school because they see the debate, any uptick has not been “dramatic.” (Schools like Hofstra and Longwood, which don’t fare as well as Washington University in prominent national rankings and may not be as well known, might see more of an increase as a result of hosting.)
Other schools, including Longwood, tout the economic benefits to the school and surrounding area, which some estimates put in the $10 million range. Press and politicos fly into local airports, they rent cars, they stay at hotels, and they eat at nearby restaurants.
That doesn’t mean that every school with the means to host a debate wants in on the act, or that students and faculty are necessarily thrilled, though. “We couldn’t believe we’re having a debate on this campus at a time when we’re not supporting the candidate. But now we’re excited again. It’s really quite a big deal,” Ruben Schuckit, the president of the school’s College Republicans, which is not backing Trump, said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Back in 2012, Mike McCurry, the co-chairman of the national Commission on Presidential Debates, told the Daily Beast that while dozens of schools express an interest at first, many ultimately shy away from the cost and commitment. “They learn that you have to load up on your power, bring in new air conditioning, pay for a lot of security. The financial commitment the school makes is a minimum of $1.5 million,” McCurry said. This year, that fee, which the commission uses to pay production fees, is even higher, at $1.9 million.