You demanded designer universities to go with your designer jeans and universities delivered.
The way [former George Washington University President Stephen] Trachtenberg saw it, selling George Washington over the other schools was like selling one brand of vodka over another. Vodka, he points out, is a colorless, odorless liquid that varies little by maker. He realized the same was true among national private universities: It was as simple as raising the price and upgrading the packaging to create the illusion of quality. Trachtenberg gambled that prospective students would see costly tuition as a sign of quality, and he was right. “People equate price with the value of their education,” he says.
Trachtenberg was hardly the first to reach this conclusion, but under his leadership, George Washington was peerless in following its logic. He didn’t spend the tuition windfall to shift the professor-to-student ratio or overhaul the curriculum. Instead, he covered the campus in cafés, beautiful study spaces, and nicer dorms. Trachtenberg thought that construction on campus gave the appearance that the school was financially sound and was progressing toward a goal, so his policy was, “Never stop building.” If he wanted to erect or renovate two buildings, he would stagger the projects so that jackhammers could be heard constantly around campus. He also introduced a three-day orientation, known as Colonial Inauguration, that featured ice-cream socials, casino nights, and a laser show that cost $2,500 per minute.