What does your institution believe in? Do you believe in the right to education for all? What about leading the response to climate change or eliminating cancer?
Surely you have something that you stand for. But do you stand for it with conviction and proudly say so?
Faith-based schools stand firm on the foundation of their religious values and look to them to guide everything they do. From programming to recruitment, their core tenets are infused into every strategy. As a result, they attract the right-fit students, faculty, and staff. They foster unity, identity, and connection — and they thrive.
What you believe in can draw believers – not just those in-step with your values or purpose, but those who value that you have a purpose to begin with.
For non-faith-based institutions desperately searching for a differentiator, it’s time to take a page from their book.
It’s self-evident that when you promote your values and purpose with conviction, not only is it easier to set yourself apart. But also, your right-fit students, faculty, staff, and donors naturally find you and adopt your identity.
An increasingly competitive higher ed. space calls for a bold approach to define exactly who you are and what you stand for. Declare your values and start moving mountains.
Why it’s hard for (non-faith-based) higher ed. institutions to stand out.
As more and more undergrad and graduate programs migrate online, your competition isn’t only in the next city, state, or province over. It’s in cities all over the world. Students in Spain or South Korea can look at schools in Saskatoon or San Francisco. Anything goes!
So unless you have a signature program or you’re a household name (looking at you, Oxford), it’s going to be an uphill battle to attract the right-fit students (or faculty, or staff).
As you approach solving your differentiator dilemma, you might think listing your school’s distinguished alumni might set you apart. Or perhaps you have a long list of accomplishments you’d like to amplify. It might sound like a good idea, and it certainly doesn’t hurt. But, we’ve got bad news.
Those merits aren’t differentiators. And they aren’t going to interest your right-fit students any more than the next institution who touts theirs.
But looking to faith-based organizations, there’s a bold opportunity to stand out hiding in plain sight: Stand for what you believe in. Stand for your values and your purpose.
3 lessons to learn from faith-based higher ed. institutions.
To be clear: We’re not talking about conversion, here — we’re talking about conviction. Your higher ed. institution doesn’t have to believe in a deity to define what it stands for, or to take advantage of the inherent differentiators that faith-based institutions do.
There are three lessons any college, polytechnic school, or university can learn from their faith-based counterparts.
- Faith-based schools 100% embrace their right-fit students. They know what type of student they want to recruit. Full stop. They target students in a certain field of study or who embrace values consistent with those of the institution. They aren’t afraid to identify exactly who they want and zero in on how to get them there.
- Faith-based schools know who they are and what they believe in — unapologetically. They might welcome applicants from all faiths, but they won’t compromise their own institutional values to attract them. And while their values are inherent, that doesn’t mean that they didn’t put in the time to self-examine and explore their beliefs, or how they express them.
- Faith-based schools base their offerings on their foundation, allowing their core beliefs to strategically inform what they offer. On top of normal programs, they usually require faith or service-based learning, and they aren’t afraid to make it mandatory. If you try to be all things to all people, you’ll end up being nothing to no one.
The more specific you can be about what you offer, who you are, and who you’re right for, the faster you’ll reach your differentiator. Have faith.
Two faith-based higher ed. institutions using their values as a recruitment hook.
Universities and colleges aren’t bystanders. You are effecting change in the world, through philanthropy, research, and the preparation of the next generation of leaders. These actions are your convictions played out. And they probably aren’t by mistake if it’s in your strategic plan to create a better society, more opportunity for all, or to be a catalyst for change.
But like any faith-based school, what you believe in can draw believers – not just those who are perfectly in step with your values or purpose, but those who value that you have a purpose to begin with.
Take, for example, St. Mary’s Academy. It’s a Catholic private school with a few challenges on its plate: nailing a presidential transition and convincing students (and their parents) to come to an open house during a pandemic.
St. Mary’s called on us to help them navigate this tricky time. They wanted to be overtly Catholic in their marketing approach because that’s who they are. And though Catholic students are largely who they attract, they are open to students of all faiths.
Being overt in their targeting is key because it tells families what to expect: that their religion courses and community service are mandatory curricula.
On the flip side, we also worked with Booth University College to develop a recruitment campaign and institutional brand positioning. Booth is borne of the Salvation Army. And though its instruction is informed by its Christian/Salvationist point of view, Booth makes a concerted effort to attract learners from any and all faiths — not by compromising on their faith, but by focusing on the values inherent in their faith.
In doing so, they are renowned for their social work program. Plus, they compete with universities much larger than themselves in that niche arena. They’ve used that leading wedge (social work) to expand their programming diversity while continuing to focus on what they believe in – using education to create a better world.
Your institution’s beliefs unite everyone, from staff to alumni.
As powerful as that values-based alignment is for recruitment, it can be equally compelling for alumni. Besides their area of study, you give graduates one more reason to stay connected to your school once they move on: Because they believe in what you stand for, and want to see you fulfill that purpose.
Whether you’re a faith-based school or not: There are people whose values align with yours. And attracting them depends on embracing what you believe in, boldly and proudly as part of who you are.
If you want to chat more about differentiation for your higher ed. institution, get in touch–we can help you find what you believe in.