On Friday, March 21, the most popular search term on Google wasnt Miley Cyrus or Barack Obama or NCAA basketball.
It was Mercer University.
The Bears win over Duke University in the NCAA mens basketball tournament unleashed torrents of national publicity, which should be a big boost for the Macon-based university, officials say.
While its too early to know whether the fervor will immediately impact enrollment, officials predict the swell of media coverage will increase both student and alumni interest.
I think anytime you receive a higher visibility -- and especially when its positive visibility as this was -- I think that your alumni feel closely connected to the university, Mercer President Bill Underwood said. Frequently, that results in more alumni engagement with the university. And I think it can impact your demand among prospective students.
From that Friday to Sunday, Mercer officials tracked more than 5,000 news articles related to the university. The Mercer-Duke game was the most tweeted event that week, with more than 7.8 million total views, said Larry Brumley, senior vice president for marketing communications and chief of staff.
In one hour -- from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. on March 21 -- Mercers home page received 72,000 visits. From Friday until Sunday, the home page received almost 250,000 visits, about double the number of visits every month. A majority of people visited the about section of the website, but the second-highest number of views went to the admissions link, Brumley said.
People were at least checking us out and consumed some amount of information about Mercer, he said. Thats something we would not have gotten if it wasnt for that game.
Mercers freshman application deadline for the fall is Tuesday, Brumley said, so its unlikely the publicity would have an immediate impact on student applications. Still, the media blitz was unprecedented, he said.
The biggest effect likely will be among potential students, who have been accepted and are trying to decide which college to attend. The hope of Mercer officials is that the excitement of the schools basketball season will help convince students to attend Mercer, Underwood said.
Still, the university already is seeing an uptick in new students. The number of incoming freshmen who have committed to Mercer University is 10 percent higher than last years commitments -- and that boost happened before the NCAA tournament, said Alejandra Sosa, director of freshman admissions. In fall 2013, Mercer enrolled its biggest freshman class.
That increase is due to a number of factors, including the return of Mercer football, Sosa said.
And Mercers new basketball buzz likely will affect out-of-state applications, officials say.
People who have never heard of Mercer before will now have heard of Mercer, Sosa said.
And those people might be more willing to attend a university that not only is academically competitive, but also has proven itself athletically, Sosa said.
Its an example of the importance of athletics to the university as a whole, Underwood said.
Raising the visibility of the university, that creates all kinds of opportunities, he said. I think athletics ... is one of the best vehicles to raise visibility.
To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 744-4331.