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Philadelphia's reputation is about to get a facelift. For decades, many have perceived the City of Brotherly Love as nothing but a rest stop between New York City and Washington, D.C. And although the five-county Philadelphia region includes more than 50 colleges and universities -- not to mention 250,000 students -- it is not traditionally considered a college town. But the city's image is about to change, according to Todd Hoffman, founder of Campus Visit, a for-profit company started in Boston in 1995 to promote the city as a college town. The Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation has put up $300,000 to hire Campus Visit to launch a promotional program in Philadelphia to boost its image among college applicants. Sixteen Philadelphia-area colleges and universities, including Penn, are already involved in the campaign. GPTMC Program Director Veronica Wentz said the initiative is one that area schools have been contemplating for years. "A lot of colleges are hoping to see us step up to the plate," she said, adding that institutions other than those that are already involved have expressed interest in taking active roles in the campaign. "[The initiative] will re-position Philadelphia not as a city of colleges but a city where colleges and commerce are intertwined," Hoffman said. "Philadelphia does not seem to get the recognition it deserves." Hoffman added that the city has a great deal of untapped cultural and ethnic diversity. "[The campaign] has been a long time coming," said Becky Bowlby, associate director of Undergraduate Admissions at Drexel University, a participating school. "Overall, I think Philadelphia gets a bad rap. What's heard outside the region [about crime and the people] is negative." Larry Moneta, Penn's associate vice president for campus services, said Philadelphia's resources are comparable to Boston's, but that the city has not done as good a job promoting them. "Imagery is a function of how you package the product," he said. The project is currently focusing on the first of three phases, which consists of attracting prospective college students. Later, the organizers will direct their attention toward helping enrolled students become familiar with the city and retaining students after they graduate. "When people are looking to select a college, 70 percent of them will go to a school they first visited," Hoffman said. "It's absolutely critical that you get the kids to visit the campus." Hoffman explained that the initiative aims to lessen parents' fears about the city by encouraging high school students and their parents to experience the city -- independent of the schools -- when they visit. The program offers suggested itineraries and recommended hotels and restaurants through its toll-free number , a travel desk and a Web site, The initiative also includes a 46-page magazine with articles about the participating schools and the region. "There's a lot of information on how to apply to college, but there's little on how to do a campus visit," Hoffman said. "It's very important to sell people on the region." While Campus Visit's quantitative impact on application numbers is difficult to determine, Hoffman said the Boston schools involved reported a 15 percent increase in applications since joining the initiative, even though college applications rose only 2.3 percent nationally.

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