The Washington Post

Marymount U.: mystery shoppers

Marymount University President Matt Shank has a notion: If you pay to go to a private school, you should not only get excellent academics — you should get excellent customer service in every other aspect of campus life.

So he’s testing out that proposition by hiring several students to be mystery shoppers at the 3,700-student Catholic school in Arlington, where annual undergraduate tuition is $24,900.

The anointed students are calling the bursar, the registrar, the housing office. They’re checking out dining and library services. They want to gauge response times to voice mail and e-mail queries and, in general, whether those offices promote a customer-first attitude.

“I put extra emphasis on services,” Shank said the other day in a conversation in his office on North Glebe Road. “Especially as a private school, we have to be unbelievable in providing services outside the classroom.”

The admissions office at Marymount University in Arlington. (Dayna Smith/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

A few other tidbits about the school: It has about 130 Saudi students. It draws about 400 traditional freshmen each year and about 300 transfer students, many from Northern Virginia Community College and Montgomery College, which is unusual for a private university. And it just added mens baseball and volleyball and mens and womens triathlon as sports. Shank is a big believer in the recruiting power of moderately priced athletic programs. He figures to get dozens of new students from those sports.

“We absolutely are adding teams for that reason,” Shank said.

Some readers might recall that last year Shank made a few waves by , well, not making waves. He eschewed entirely the “inaugural” festivities that often accompany the arrival of a new university president. He didn’t want the expense or the fuss.

“Whenever I receive an invitation to an inaugural event, I throw it in the trash, and that’s the last I think of it,” he said at the time. “It’s a one-shot deal that everyone forgets about the next day.”


Nick Anderson covers higher education for The Washington Post. He has been a writer and editor at The Post since 2005.


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