The Higher Ed Marketer
The Higher Ed Marketer

Episode · 8 months ago

Ending Departmental Silos & Focusing on Mission Fit

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Our guest, Philip Dearborn, has spent over 25 years in biblical higher education serving in a wide array of roles—from student recruiter and registrar to provost and VP of student affairs.

Today, he is the President of the Association for Biblical Higher Education. It’s his extensive experience at both the collegiate and accreditation levels that makes him the perfect person to talk with about leadership and marketing strategies in higher education.

In this episode, we discuss:

- Why mission-fit student recruitment should be the highest priority

- The need to break down silos and work across departments

- Why it’s important to understand your ROI by program

- The prediction that today’s students will likely have 10 different careers in their lifetime

Mentioned during the podcast:

- Ep. 43: Solving For the Right Things in the Right Way: IU Strategies to Retain Students w/ Eleanor Berman

To hear more interviews like this one, subscribe to Higher Ed Marketer on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your preferred podcast platform.

Listening on a desktop & can’t see the links? Just search for Higher Ed Marketer in your favorite podcast player.

You are listening to the Higher Ed Marketer, a podcast geared towards marketing professionals in higher education. This show will tackle all sorts of questions related to student recruitment, don'tor relations, marketing trends, new technologies and so much more. If you are looking for conversation centered around where the industry is going, this podcast is for you. Let's get into the show. Welcome to the High Ed Marketer podcast. I'm troy singer in here with my cohost Bart Taylor, where each week we interview higher Ed marketers that we admire for the betterment of the community. Today we get to talk to Philip Dearborn, who is the president of the Association of Biblical Higher Education. He comes to us with twenty five plus years worth of knowledge. He comes to us with wonderful stories and I can't wait for everyone to listen to the practical advice daddy and ministers. Yeah, try he's it's such a great episode. There were so many different topics that we talked about, everything from recruiting mission fit students and what that means in a broader sense, as well as to just the idea of, you know, silos on campus and ways to kind of work around those. One of the things that I really want to kind of encourage everybody. I mean as if you're just starting to join us and you're like, okay, I'm going to stick around for this episode, because that's the way I am with podcast sometimes. I want to really encourage you that you know, even though you might not your school might not be a Bible College, you might not be a faith based school and there might be different feelings that you have about that, a lot of what we talked about is applicable to just about every school, whether you're a big school, small school or in between. I really encourage you to kind of just listen and hear everything that that we talked about because, even though we talk about mission fit students, every school and as you'll see as you're here in the episode, every school has a mission and you need to find the right types of students to fulfill that mission of your institution. He does an excellent job of conveying the successful practices and Higher Ed Marketing and leadership. Yeah, you can. Without further ADO,...

...here's Philip Dearborn. We are speaking with Philip Dearborn here on the Higher Ed Marketer podcast. Thank you so much for being a guest today with this Philip, it's a pleasure to be here troy. Because of your experience both on the college level and then now your current position with an accreditation on associate level, we would like to talk to you about successful leadership and also marketing within higher education and before we get into it, if you could give us a little bit about your background and also what you currently do. Sure, I spent prior to joining the Association for a Biblical Higher Education, Abh G. before joining them as president, I served just over twenty five years in Biblical Higher Education and in that time pretty much hit almost every single department that you possibly could on a campus. I started recruiting students, move from there into the registrar's office, then went from there to an associate vice president and a vice president, then provost and even spend a little bit of time as an interim vice president of Student Affairs. So I've I've been around the campus and kind of get a sense of everything that happens on a campus. Thank you. In previous conversations, I know that one of the one of your passions is making sure schools know that the height of their success is going to come from the pursuit of mission fit students and would love to go into that conversation with you and if you could just share some of your perspective and why you feel so passionately about that. Sure, sure, and a lot of it. I think that that passion has driven to where I am now as president of Abh G, where I kind of get a little bit more of a global picture at Biblical higher education and Biblical High Education. We have a hundred and fifty five institutions across North America. Eighteen of those earned Canada, and...

...those institutions are enrolling about sixty three thou students, which is really cool to see. I mean that's sixty threezero students who are laser focused on fulfilling God's call in their lives and I think that's where mission fit why I'm so passionate about that, because biblical higher education is laser focused on Biblical and theological education and I think it's important that throughout the entire institution, from beginning to end, the entire student experience, that institutions are recruiting truly mission fit institutions who are looking to fulfill God's call on their life and an institutions got identify those students who fit with that institution. I think that's a I think that's a great point, Philip, and I know that we've talked about this before and I've spoken with a a lot of my clients and full transparency, I do work with Abh g and several of their institutions. But one of the things I want to kind of for you know, I don't want to turn this into I don't want somebody tuning out right now because it's like, okay, well, I'm not a Bible College, so I don't this doesn't apply to me. Don't do that, because really what we're talking about here is I believe that every college in in in the world can benefit from understanding what true mission fit means. I mean, we're talking about the context here of Biblical Higher Education and I've seen it play out a little bit. But keep in mind that we're talking about if you're an art school, you have mission fit students because you're you're trying to find students who need an art eduction education. If you're an engineering school, same thing. So this applies broadly. So don't tune us out because we're focused in on a specific you know element of that, but I think it's it's really critical fill up because I've worked with a lot of schools and even larger faith based schools that that maybe our more liberal arts in their approach as opposed to specifically Biblical and theological training. I've...

...seen that, even when they are trying to focus on mission fit, and you know I've heard it before, it's like, you know, hey, we're really we're really trying to, you know, really increase the enrollment pool. Maybe we've leaned into athletics to do that a little bit. You know, we're really trying to bring in as many student athletes to fill the rosters. But guess what, when they get there first week, they spend a day in chapel and they're like, Oh, you guys are kind of serious about this Jesus thing. What's that going on? Yeah, so, so when you have that friction between, you know, mission fit students versus a student that's just going to fill a fill a roster or fill a spot in a seat on campus, that can really be detrimental to this institution. Yeah, you set it very well, Barret, and you know I look at at as institutional alignment. Probably no other sector, perhaps the healthcare industry would be up there. But but when you talk about mission within higher education, I the accreditation market, everything. Your mission is the promise that you make to the students. That's what you're going to fulfill if they engage with you and study your institution. You know, pretty much on any college campus you can ask a faculty member, you can ask a staff member, you can ask the present what's the mission of the institution? And so it's starts there and it drives everything that the institution does. So if you have misalignment right from the beginning, I mean look at student life cycle, even from, you know, the prospecting side of it all the way through, you need institutional alignment to make sure that you're not compromising on that mission. You know, it's a it's it's an extreme case to say, you know, if you're an engineering school and your your mission is laser focused on engineering and you make the decision, okay, well, we're going to enroll these art students because we need to fill more seats, there's going to be an inconsistency there and those students aren't going to have a good experience on your campus. And...

...in fact, what they do is actually take away from the experience of those who are mission fit students. But the reality is, especially in the market of higher education, there's a whole lot of pressure on enrollment officers and marketing departments to fill seats and sometimes that pressure becomes so overwhelming that you start to cheat and you start to compromise on that mission. And I don't think it happens all at once either. I think it's this iterative approach that well, if we just if we just recruit these students and well, if we just do this, if we just do this, if we just do this, and before you know it, over time, what you've done you water down your mission and you've moved away from really what your main target ought to be. Yeah, I think that's so critical and and I know that in our pre conversation a little bit we talked about just the whole idea of yet when we start to kind of there's two things. I think. One is we've really got to understand from a institutional standpoint, and many times marketers are the ones that can kind of help help drive this is what who are we really? What do we all about? What is that mission? Because, I mean, we can kind of all know it and when we see it, but how do we articulate it and then how do we just kind of continue to, you know, that drum beat, not only externally for the prospective students that we have, but also internally, for for our internal audiences? I think that's one thing, but I think the second thing also is the idea of really making sure that that alignment that we have internally, that we really kind of play in our own lanes so that we can make sure that those those items that we're doing are are working for the betterment of the entire institution and how we represent the brand. What do you think about that, Philip? Yeah. Yeah, so it's a fascinating conversation when you look at when you look at mission, when you look at efforts that college is make to enroll new students, and and I want to be clear that you know...

...athletics as a front porch, the worship arts or theater arts or production arts or another front porch. Front Porch is what the public sees, and so a lot of times institutions use their front porch to recruit students in and there's nothing wrong with that. I think. I think you can have a very strong athletic recruitment effort at a Bible College or even at an engineering school. So there are definitely front porch elements that you want to track students in. You just have to make sure that they are mission fit from the start that by having that, then suddenly doesn't say, okay, well, we're going to have this, we're going to grow our Bible college enrollment through an athletics programs. Well, you're only going to be a division three, maybe division two, you'll never be a division one. So Be Realistic about those efforts. And that's where I think a lot of times in my experience, what I've seen, and even in my experience at a college setting, there was kind of this dissatisfaction of where we are and we've got to be something more and and always looking over the fence and seeing that the grass is green or well, we need we need to chase after that or there's that shiny object. We need to be that without without being satisfied with okay, this is our lane, this is this is who we are today, this is what our mission defines us as. We're not going to play outside of that. And and don't get me wrong, you ought to be pursuing something, you ought to be targeting, something you ought to be moving in a direction, but don't overreach in that process. I think there's a saying, I'm not going to say it real well, but there's a saying of don't forget who, who Brung you to the dance, right, and I think there's this idea on college campuses that we forget who brought us to the dance and we...

...try to live outside of that and then that process we actually do more damage to the institution and potentially take it in a direction that you don't necessarily want to go. That's great. You also have mentioned in our pre conversation your belief in the necessity for departments to work well with one another across campus and would like for you to go a little deeper with your thoughts on that. Yeah, absolutely. You know, higher education is very unique. You don't have to be in too many of our circles and you recognize the term of silos and our campuses tend to be siloed, meaning that this department does this and this department does that, and some of it, I think, is a function of size. As institutions grow, their positions become more specialized and because of that they're hiring people who just no marketing or just no recruitment or just no academics, and that's all good. Growth is good, but the flip side of that is you're hiring people who are very specialized in their field and you know the I think that contributes to the silo effect. And boy, we got to break down silos on our college campus as we and I get it you want to, especially when it when it comes to faculty and departments who have been trained. They're passionate about their area of expertise and and they think that they have the best academic program that there ever was and they've and trained to think that way. And unfortunately, what that does it creates the silo and I think we have to constantly be working at tearing down those silos so that we gain an appreciation for what other departments do on the campus. You know, it's it's a it's a catch twenty two situation. You know, professors aren't going to have students to teach if the recruitment office in the marketing teams aren't working together to recruit the students. They'll teach empty classrooms. There's there's nobody to teach. At the same time, I think the...

...recruitment marketing teams need to realize that once students are identified to come into the campus, that that's what they experienced, that that's who's delivering on the promise, or the faculty members, and there has to be that appreciation for what those faculty members are doing in the context of the classroom. Well, you can't do that in a siloid effect. We were in my higher ed experience. Boy, we were constantly addressing silos and as soon as we identify them, we tried to do everything that we could to tear down those silos, because when you do that you've got the blinders on and all you see is your reality. You're not seeing beyond it. And it takes it takes a campus to recruit a student, it takes a campus to retain that student, it takes a campus to graduate that student. And if there's that shared sense of we're all in this together, we can't function without the other. A true appreciation ation for that, I think it. It goes a long way towards towards success on the campus. Yeah, I think you're right on that, Philip. I've seen some examples both ways on campus, as I you know, where where maybe there's a really good program that is in high demand, but maybe the way it's being marketed. An example I saw recently a criminal justice program you know, it's one of the most popular programs there are out there for for some students, but on the website it was not, you know, it wasn't a major it was embedded in the social work page. Well, you know, those students don't know that that's the way it needs to go, and so the marketing on that was a little bit off. And so those silo effect was, you know, we put it in the wrong place because, you know, this is the way we're structured internally. And then on the flip side, I sometimes see, you know, well meaning faculty who come and present, you know, a series of programs, but the market just isn't there for that particular program and so all of a sudden, you know, silos especially, is a way that people end...

...up pointing fingers and we don't want that. And I really agree with what you're saying there with the idea of breaking down those silos. Yeah, and and I think one easy way to know if you've had the silo effect is to look at your website. I think that's a great indicator and and I fell into this trap for many years and it was really only towards the end of my career that I really kind of kind of flipped into a one hundred and eighty. The tendency is to want to design the website so that a con additions can understand it. It's structured by departments. Well, why is that criminal justice program in the social worked party? Well, makes sense because it's a subset and you know it is, and you can make a very strong academic rationalist to why it's there. Well, the user, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen year old girl or guy who's looking at it and they don't know, you know, the disciplines of social work and where criminal justice is, they're not going to intuitively know that. I mean, think about all of our web experiences. If we can't get what we want within one or two or three cliques, we've gone on to the next thing. That's exactly and and the markets doing that too. So one way that you can see as a college siload. Have they structured it in such a way that all of the active additions can say, yeah, you know what it's beautiful, it's structured exactly how it has to be, and the market saying this makes no sense to us whatsoever. Yeah, well, let's talk about for a second. If, just if, we do have all that alignment, silos are removed. We've all been working on that directly and we've got a we got the page in the right place on the website. Now we're starting to talk about the return on the investment by the program yeah, what's important about that? And how? What's what are some of your experiences on kind of that perspective? Yeah, so I think it's a it's a critical it's a critical piece. One of the thing I do. I'll get to that here in a second. The the one thing that I think is important to know about the whole silo issue is I draw a distinction between tensions and problems.

You solve problems, you manage tensions, and too often we treat silos as if their problems and we want them to go away. Well, if we can just fix it. Well, now, silos are our tensions and we shouldn't run from them. They're actually they're actually good. We have to learn how to manage them because by nature, if you leave it alone we will be siload. But if you manage it, you appreciate the distinction that the silo brings, but then also the value that it brings when it's viewed totally as a whole. I think one of the ways is when you know, looking at something like programmatic Roi Return on investment, that is a non siload approach. That is truly something that tears down those silos and that's looking at academic programs and saying, having a good understanding of the investment that we make in this particular program what's our return on that? And that's a tough exercise to go through because you you you invoke passion. You know the the worship Arts Department, were the Performing Arts Department is going to be very, very passionate about their programming. And if you suddenly show them the numbers because, and I'll pick on performing arts, because the ratios tend to be smaller where, you know you have a lot of one on one instruction, you have a lot of ensembles, it's very it's a very expensive program to run. And if you start to actually look at the return on investment on on performing arts programs isolated in itself, most times you're losing money. It's a losing money proposition. Well, we know that money doesn't grow on trees, right, so you know where is the money coming from in order to support that? Well, if you have a thriving performing arts department, Guess what,...

...you're going to have another front porch. You're going to have plays and musicals and events that you bring donors to, and donors and now contributing because they see the front porch of the institution and they want to be part of something like that. But we need to get a little bit more disciplined in fully understanding the return on invest how much do we get as a result of this academic programs? And you know, a lot of times in my experience, you get caught up and well, how do we calculate that? Well, figure it out. You know nothing's going to be perfect, right. You know how many students are in an academic program just start adding up some sense of expense. Well, how do you add up to have a register, shared registrar and a financial aid office and but we'll come up with a percentage, you know, whatever it is to try to get of what is the actual expense as close as you can in order for us to operate this program and most of our institutions look they're breaking even in a in a best case scenario every year. So you're not going to find programs that are that are much higher and revenue over expense. But what it does it helps you make informed decisions so that if you're choosing to run an expensive program engineering programs very expensive to run, nursing programs very expensive to run, but if you have a good sense of what that cost is and what your return on investment is, you can make informed decisions to say, okay, while the nursing program may be expensive to run and our margin is a lot tighter there, we are also running a business administration program where the margins aren't necessarily as tight and it's a little bit cheaper to run a business administration program so you have a sense of okay, we're really going to enroll more students in this program to help support what we do. Because because nursing is a mission fit program or a performing arts department is is a mission fit program well, we can't operate...

...at a loss. We can operate all of our programs at a lass, but we may choose to do that in this case, but we fund it by another means. Yeah. Well, you talk about breaking down silos. Now now there's an appreciation on the business administration side that, Hey, we're helping fund a Performing Arts Department or we're a nursing program or an engineering program yeah, I like that because I think sometimes, especially I think, well, I think everywhere, there's this this idea of Egalitarians and where it's like everybody's got to be equal, you know, especially, and I've had these arguments over the course of my career, especially as it relates to the website. Well, why is? Why is the MBA program featured on the website and my history programs not? That doesn't seem right. and well, it goes back to what we're talking about here. It's like, okay, there's a little bit of jealousy there, but at the same time, if I'm going to enroll, you know, seventy five business administration students and I've only got three people in the history program that comes down to dollars and sense sometimes, and you know, it's it's sometimes hard to make those conversations and again it I really liked what you said about managing that tension that that creates rather than trying to make that problem go away by just making everything equal. It won't go away because because in in academia, in scholarship, history is important, but no institution, unless you're a major state university, even they're you know, they're they're expensive to run and they need to appreciate the value of we value history. Is Important to have that program in order for us to have that program it means that there's an appreciation for, and UN reliance on these other programs. So it's it's it's you gain that, that level appreciation and you don't. You don't get that overnight. It's something that you build through conversations and people just just knowing that we're intentional in having this program the only way we can have this program is because we have these other programs. That's great. Statistics are saying that students who are graduating in the next couple...

...of years and generation Alpha that's going to come after them will have at least ten different careers within their lifetime, and some of those careers have not been invented yet. So, from your perspective, how our colleges university supposed to train for this? How are they supposed to offer that mission. Yeah, I think this is this is probably one of the most significant issues and I'll make a general statement the higher education is not quite prepared for and I think within my context of Abag, I think we are on the cutting edge of this, realizing the fact that students are guent. That's not ten different jobs, that's ten different occupations. So really, what it does, what it it begs the question of what's the purpose of an undergraduate education? What are we preparing the students to do? For abag, that's very clear. We're about the great commission or about training students with the soft skills in life, the relational skills in life, that, regardless of occupational context, they have a sense of that they're sharing Christ with the people that they come in contact with. But I think the reality get crosses over very, very easily, as you have to ask the hard question. Higher Education has to look at self in the mirror and say, what are we preparing our students to do, realizing that we can't even anticipate the career that they're going to have ten years now, twenty years from now? Are there requisite life skills, foundational skills that we want to make sure that our graduates leave our institutions with so that they can be a successful in an environment where they will have ten different occupations. So I think what it what it's doing is really begging the whole end and in some ways it's kind of coming back to what higher education was, and it was pretty much that sense of preparing you. So so you look at an undergraduate education the court and undergraduate education is is developing critical thinking...

...skills. Unfortunately, higher education is kind of turned it more into content up. You need to know this body of knowledge and we need to pivot off of that, and and and our classrooms are professors have to pivot on. It's not so much this is what you need to know, because grab your phone. Great information is readily available. The question is, what do you do with that information? Do you have the skills to critically think through that evaluation or that information and, in our case, value it for truth capitalty to say, you know what, this information is not valid because of x, Y and Z, and I think there's a whole reframing of higher education that's coming where we're going to seriously. Course, the public is already asking it. You just have to pick up a newspaper and somebody saying you're not going to take out two mortgages in order to form my for junior to go to college. They're graduating with six figures of debt, and so the valid question is being asked, what's what's the value? What am I getting as a result of this education? And I think that margin of value to reality is just gotten pretty, pretty tight, and I think it's a great reframing opportunity to say, you know, you know what, there is tremendous value. We are giving you life skills, we are giving you relational skills, those soft skills to be able to go into context, to totally reframe who we are so that we can be successful and whatever that next occupation is. Look at Covid. Covid just totally blew up the job market even to where we actually do our jobs and where we work. And how do we prepare students to go into that context and be successful and to be able to reinvent themselves so that they can be successful with whatever that next career that's coming their way? Yeah, I love that. That's a really good point. As...

...we bring it to a close, our question to our guest always is if there is a tip, a topic something that you could offer that could be immediately implemented? What would that be? Yeah, so I appreciate the question and I appreciate the fact that you ask it in advance so I could actually think about it. And so it's going to sound perhaps too simplistic, but if you are, you know, the head of a recruiting department or Marketing Department, or even if you know if you're if you're just simply recruiting students, how do you start to address the mountain of the silos within higher education? It all happens by relationship. I've yet to experience in my higher ed experience the solution to the problem is a structure. The solution to the problem where the solution to managing tensions doesn't happen by putting a new structure in. It happens by relationship. So the the the easy thing to do. If you're a marketer, if you're a recruitment officer, pick up the phone, send an email to the chief academic officer of the institution where you serve and say hey, I want to take you to lunch. Start building a relationship. If you're a recruiter and you don't fully understand how the academics are structured and you sense that there are some of those silos within your institution. Pick up the phone, send an email to the department head where you don't understand it. Build a relationship, have a conversation, help me understand how social work happens. And that's how it happens, one relationship at a time. And I think our technology, this is one of the downsides of our technology, is it's forced us to tyranny of the urgent. Whatever's coming next, I'm just going to dress, I'm going to dress, I'm going to dress. I can, I can, I can just send a quick email response.

I can. We've abandoned relationship and it takes time to build those relationships because then when it comes time to have some of those tough conversations, there's a relational context in which you can have that. I think we need to bring relationships back into our working communities. So that's a simple thing. Just pick up the phone, just just take them the lunch. You'll shock the socks off of them the fact that you're right. Take him the coffee if you can afford lunch, but build those relationships one relationship at a time. Thank you. Philip, how can our listeners contact you if they would like to do so? Absolutely so. Email is the best and my email is Philip Dot Dearborn at Abh Dot Org, and you can certainly access me through our website, Abh she dot org. But I love having conversations around this and off any of your listeners want to continue the conversation, I'd be happy to engage with them on that. Thank you, Philip Bart your closing thoughts? Yeah, I just wanted to point out a few things that Philip said because this is such a rich and informative interview and conversation. I really appreciate it. A lot of what we talked about with mission fit and again, you know, rewind a little bit if you want to kind of re listen to that and see how it applies to your particular school and your particular situation. But I think beyond that, one of the things I really appreciated was this idea of tension versus problem, the idea of managing the tensions and recognizing that, you know, we just can't get rid of problems. We've got to kind of look at those and how that works with silos, and even this last tip that Philip said about, you know, building those relationships. It reminded me a lot of conversation we had a few episodes ago with Eleanor Bierman from Chief Marketing Officer in Indiana University. She talked about all the silos that are in these big state systems. These silos are everywhere. I mean we've been talking about Small Bible colleges to you know, big state systems like Indiana University. Silos exist in higher education and I love the fact that Philip...

...talked about one of the best ways to bring those silos down is is relationships. You know, Eleanor talked about clarity of vision. There's there's ways of relationship and and speaking that clarity of vision, which I think can happen over coffee. Probably the best way to have that clarity of vision is over coffee so that if you don't understand the vision of the you know, academic department, you're talking them over coffee and we're really getting to know each other and building that trust. So really appreciate your your time and your thoughts on this, Philip. Thank you so much for being a part of this. Absolutely my pleasure. That concludes the Higher Ed Marketer Podcast, which is sponsored by Kaylor solutions and education, marketing and branding agency and by thing patented, a Marketing Execution Company specializing in mailings, printing, customization and personalized outreach programs. On behalf of my cohost, Bart Kaylor, I'm tchroice singer. Thank you for joining us. You've been listening to the Higher Ed Marketer to to ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. If you're listening with apple PODCASTS, we'd love for you to leave a quick rating of the show. Simply tap the number of stars you think the podcast deserves. Until next time,.

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