The Ohio State University has long been a huge part of what life in Columbus is all about. Residents of our fair city know that the college is a key driver of its economy and social and cultural activities. Now the University wants prospective and current students to understand that Columbus can and should be a big part of their college experience, too.
This wasn’t always the case. When I was at OSU in the ’70s, campus was the exclusive focal point of student life. Living “off-campus” simply meant one of the at-that-time run-down areas right next to campus. I covered the Statehouse for the Lantern so I drove downtown regularly, but that was just because it was part of my beat. The city really didn’t seem to offer much of interest to my campus-oriented world — but many of us ended up staying in Columbus after graduation, anyway, because there were jobs here.
Columbus has gotten a lot more interesting since those days. Back then, the Short North was a scary place of vacant storefronts and XXX theaters; now it is a thriving, uber-cool neighborhood of shops, restaurants, and art galleries. The Arena District, another focal point of the Columbus social/cultural scene, didn’t exist. Downtown was a sea of surface parking lots that closed down about 6 p.m. And German Village — where the initial wave of rehabbing was still underway — seemed incredibly far away. Now all of those areas not only are much more interesting, they also are easy (and cheap) to reach via COTA’s free CBUS circulator, which runs on a continuous loop from Victorian Village right next to campus down High Street to German Village and back again.
Colleges are competing fiercely for students, to the point of building lavish dorms and state-of-the-art workout facilities and other amenities. If the school happens to be located in a city that features lots of great social and cultural activities and economic opportunities, why not feature that in its marketing effort as a point of distinction with schools located in small-town America? Ohio State’s decision to tout Columbus to its current and future students is not only good for the city, it’s probably good for the University, too.