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Little-Known Florida School Hopes For Presidential Debate Bump

Whenever 19-year-old Robbie Walsh tells friends and family back home in Maryland that he goes to Lynn University, they do a double-take.

"They go, 'Lynn University? What?'" he says. "Then I have to tell them it's in Boca Raton, Florida, and a lot of them say, 'Oh, FAU,' or 'The University of Miami.'"

Many of Lynn's students and faculty who gather at the campus cafe say they hear that sort of thing all the time. But university spokesman Joshua Glanzer says a new T-shirt showing up on campus gives it right back.

"The front of the T-shirt says ... 'We haven't heard of you, either,'" Glanzer says.

Lynn University is only 50 years old, and it doesn't have a famous sports team like the University of Miami's Hurricanes. Academically, it has struggled with lower-than-average graduation rates. So if you're a small private college with a less-than-stellar rep, how do you raise your profile? Well, perhaps by being the official host of a presidential debate.

The little-known South Florida campus is hosting Monday's debate between President Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.

"We cast our horseshoe and we thought, 'Let's see,'" says Lynn University President Kevin Ross. "Then when it came to pass, we were thrilled that not only did we land a debate, we landed a presidential debate, and the final debate."

In the year since Lynn snagged the debate, its 2,000 students have watched a quiet campus turn into a hotbed of activity. The university has even integrated the event into its curriculum, adding 80 new debate-related courses. Students in the education department also developed an online civics course for grade-schoolers.

Transforming a small campus into a political main stage comes with a cost. Lynn has spent $5 million getting ready for the event.

Mike McCurry, co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, says the university can expect a solid return on the investment.

"Washington University in St. Louis, by hosting three debates, they've become a national brand now," McCurry says. "This certainly boosted their enrollment, their interest, their applications and even helped them attract faculty members.

"I think that Lynn will expect to see that kind of prominence."

That's something that Lynn University is counting on.

Copyright 2012 WLRN Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.wlrn.org/.

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