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Wonk Love

College branding (and not the fraternity initiation kind either).

8:00 AM, Sep 25, 2010 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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In this recession, with university endowments taking a hit nationwide, some schools are spending that extra dollar on rebranding efforts to attract ever more students—students (or their parents) who will be forking over hundreds of thousands of dollars. The latest example is American University, which, as the Washington Post reports, has decided to embrace its inner-wonk:

The school has handed out 3,500 free T-shirts imprinted with 18 slogans, including "Legal Wonk" and "Arts Wonk." Ads have begun appearing at Metro stops and in local newspapers. And during alumni weekend in October, there will be a "Wonk of Fame" exhibit.

"We looked at what the word was doing in its current use," said Teresa Flannery, executive director of university communications and marketing, "and we decided this is what we are."

But aren't there a fair amount of wonks also coming out of George Washington University and Georgetown? Not all students at AU are thrilled about this $675,000 PR stunt either:

The choice has sparked as much consternation as enthusiasm among American's 12,000 students, not all of whom aspire to a lifetime of wonkery. Many have questioned it—and a few have openly mocked it—in Facebook updates, tweets and the comments section of the campus newspaper.

"I don't have any positive associations with this word," said Erin Lockwood, a senior majoring in international studies and economics. "It's a silly word. It doesn't have any intellectual gravitas."

Gravitas! Oh, to be in college and earnest again!

The Post also notes one rebranding effort that failed: "Drake University in Des Moines unveiled an admissions campaign this semester around the idea of the 'Drake Advantage.' For an illustration, Drake used a giant blue D+ on its Web site. The school has since modified the image so it looks less like a near-failing grade."

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