Centre raised nearly $170 million in a fundraising campaign that was planned well before the first debate but didn't start until 2003. Applications from would-be students rose about 20 percent in the year after the 2000 debate, and out-of-state applications have steadily increased since.
"Hosting the 2000 debate ushered in a decade of unprecedented progress in the life of the college," said Richard Trollinger, a Centre vice president and a key organizer as the school's debate co-chairman.
The connection to national politics is important for the profile of the 1,340-student school, which lacks big-time athletics or research. Centre was chosen by the Commission on Presidential Debates.
Centre ranked 52nd nationally among liberal arts colleges in the latest ratings from U.S. News & World Report, but it ranked fifth in best undergraduate teaching and alumni giving.
Now the school is planning an even more ambitious round of fundraising. The campaign will likely begin next year and end in 2018, some three weeks before the school celebrates the 200th anniversary of its founding, Trollinger said.
"It's our way of saying that Centre College is ready to play on the national stage," he said.
At Melton's deli, where Schepman was serving up sandwiches during a recent lunch rush in their converted gas station, the hope is that debate-related business will guarantee a positive balance sheet.
"We won't be going into 2013, hopefully, in the hole," Schepman said.
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