Student Perception Challenges of Being Both a Faith-Based and STEM-Focused Institution

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Dr. Mathew Isaac, Professor of Marketing at Seattle University, joins the podcast to discuss the recent research on how the religious language institutions use does in fact impact prospective students’ academic perceptions.

Universities just need to make sure thatwhat they're presenting in those forced one size fits all communications are fitting with theirstrategic objectives, their identity and their positioning, and that it isn't kind of anad hoc decision. You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education,the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at theircollege or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies ortools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into theshow. Welcome back to enrollment growth university, a proud member of the connect Edupodcast network. I'm Eric Olson with Helix Education and we're here today withDr Matthew Isaac, Professor of marketing at Seattle University. Matt, welcome tothe show. Thanks for having me. Real excited to have you and talkwith you today about potential perception issues with being both a faith based institution anda strong Stam University. But before we...

...dig in, can you give thelisteners a quick background on both Seattle University and your rule? They're absolutely so. Seattle University is a Jesuit Catholic University in the Seattle area and I'm aprofessor of marketing in the Albert School of business here at at Seattle. Youand we're I think we're going to be talking mostly about a paper that wasrecently published in the Journal of Advertising, which I co wrote with another professorhere at Seattle, you, Carl Obermiller, and a CO author at Le HighUniversity, Rebecca on. I love it, Matt, to kick USoff down this rabbit hole today. From a perception standpoint, is there ininherent identity conflict between being a faith based university and being a world class steminstitution? It's a great question. I mean I think all throughout time,I think there has been this kind of idea of a religion science conflict thathas emerged and we've seen it in many...

...other contexts. And even though Idon't think consumers and people in general might hold these views or that religion andscience are always antithetical, that they are opposite to each other, and maybethe case that somehow we exhibit or seem to have certain beliefs that that suggestthat there is this conflict and that might come through when we respond to,for example, advertising from a religious university. So I don't think it's necessarily thatpeople hold this belief that these two things are always income in conflict,but it might still come through somehow in affect our evaluations and our decisions.Yeah, and I think that assumption of some conflict is probably fairly intuitive tomost people. But talk about what learning now. Talk about the recent researchfrom the Journal of Advertising and what it actually discovered about how the religious languagethe institutions use impact their perspective, students...

...academic perceptions. Yes, so Ithink the genesis for this project was kind of our understanding. As we werelooking around at different religious university websites, we noticed that many of them useda lot of religious language right on the home page, or they had religiousicons that were featured prominently, a Christian Cross in the logo, whereas others, other religious universities, did not have as much religious words, religious languageor images. And you know there are almost nine hundred sectarian universities in theUS that are associated with the religious groups. So we were able to really lookthrough all of these websites and we noticed this great variation in how muchreligious wording was being used and we started to think this may not be superstrategic, and yet it might be affecting consumers and the impressions they form aboutthe university, including, you know,...

...potential students, and so that letus down the path of this research. And the main finding from the workthat's that was recently published in Journal of advertising is that for religious universities thatadvertise more strongly they're religious background on their website or in an advertisement, consumersdo seem to make some inferences, and you know, there are some thatare positive, where they might think that the university is stronger in religious relateddisciplines. But we do find pretty strong evidence that they do make an inferencethat the university is weaker in terms of its science and engineering stems disciplines.And that's kind of interesting because in we ran a series of experiments to lookat this and individuals, or the consumers we talked to didn't have to tellus that. They could have said,...

...well, you know, this university, even though it features a Christian cross, is really great at both religion andat science, but that's not what they did. They seem to makean exhibit some sort of tradeoff. Yes, so let's talk about that. Thisthis really difficult branding challenge in terms of I can imagine a dean ofcomputer science listeningness and going like I can't control what level of loadedness someone comesand imagines our Jesuit institution being. So let's talk about what are branding optionshere? From a communication standpoint, we could try and create a clearer separationbetween church and stem or. I can imagine this also leaning into it andclaiming, yes, we are an institution committed to exploring both God and science. What's on the table? What have you and your team recommended? Yeah, it's I think one thing we definitely tried not to do in the paperwas to say, well, this means that you need to back away hera religious emergency, back away, cancel...

...the mission, right, because becauseit's not just a branding question. Right, it relates to the identity of thehistory of the university and and those kinds of values, and so ofcourse we're not suggesting that, but we are, I think, suggesting thatthese decisions should be made with some insight on how consumers, and by consumersI mean perspective students in this case, but could be parents, etc.Might be viewing this kind of communication and just understand that it might have someeffects. Might not realize and so the things we're suggesting. First is,you know, really consider the background of your potential target. Right, ifyou are focused on a segment of the population that really is considering universities becauseof their religion and theology programs, of course it might make sense to highlightyour religious background in your logo and your...

...communication. But if your goal,as many as is a goal for many religiously affiliated universities, to jump onthe stem wave and make sure that they get really highly qualified students that areinterested in stem field, it might come at a cost if you are overemphasizing your religious backgrounds. You have to think carefully about the audience and howthey might interpret these cues or use these cues in your communication. So thoseare two of them that I'd say the big, big findings. And I'lljust add one more thing, which is something that was a little surprising tous in the research. was we expected we might find big differences based onconsumers own religious background and affiliation. Right, if you are more religious, maybeyou would love seeing across and that it wouldn't have any negative effects onyour evaluations of stem programs that universities. But we have some evidence from aresearch that that are effect seems to be...

...fairly universal. At it might beweaker a bit, but even for those that are that have a strong religiousbelief, they might still exhibit this religion Science Tradeoff that we found. It'sreally fascinating that this concept of that think you had on a couple of reallyimportant things today. What we learned from the data. You should not instantlycancel out our mission, as well as the fact of realizing, boy,you know, we see the state of that realized as we're losing all thesestudents in the question of bore. We're going to get them anyways because ofwho we are. So maybe leave us with this, Matt. Next UPSadvice. For there's a president listened to us, there's a there's a markcomms team listening to this, there's a a den of computer science and Biolistening to this. What's their next step? For religiously affiliated institutions who want toembrace and keep and maintain their identity but also grow their stem programs,how should they approach that task? Who should they talk to and cross collaboratewith it their own institutions? Yeah,...

I think you know, certainly oneideas. You definitely have to segment in your communication and really think about,you know, as best we can. It's not one size fits all wherewe're always going to be presenting ourselves the same way for everyone, because everyoneis coming in looking for something different, and so it makes sense to usesome of these principles of customization when we're thinking about targeting. So that that'sone. The second point is that it's not always possible right to do that. There might be certain marketing materials where you're not going to be able tocustomize, you know, your billboard. There might just be one that youcan put out there or on your website. It might be hard or recruiting brochure, and so I think it's the big takeaway. As universities just needto make sure that what they're presenting in those forced one size fits all communicationsare fitting with their strategic objectives, their identity and their positioning and that itisn't kind of an ad hoc decision. It should be strategic and they shouldrealize that there might be some consequences because...

...of this tradeoff that we've been beentalking about that they may not like or expect. So those are those are, I think, the main things to think about that. These these reallysubtle queues. You know, we might not realize that just having the crosspresented or using these religious words or going to have these kinds of effects,and so becomes pretty important to consider their impact. And I'll leave it withone final point, which is, I think one thing that's really interesting inour our work is we looked not only at stem and religious disciplines, butin some of our experiments we looked at some other fields including, for example, business and economics. I'm in a business school and we found similar effectson the stem side for business and economics. So if there's a dean of abusiness school listening, there could be some negative effects in the same wayfor business and economics programs. So that's something to keep in mind as well. I'm imagining there's a a biology professor...

...listening to this, logging into Googleoptimize right now trying to figure out how to Ab test different logos sons andwith crosses at their institution. Them are already getting weirdly mentally creeped out bythat, but I am fascinated to find out what they learned. Matt,appreciate Your Time Today and helping us think through this sensitive issue. What's thebest place for listeners to reach out if they have any follow up questions?Yeah, I think email would be great. So my email address is Isaac Am, I ask a ACM at Seattle. You Got EEDU and Gyeah. Iwould welcome further conversation on this topic. I think there's that there's a lotof interesting follow up that could be done thinking about this interplay between religionand science and how advertising can affect the inferences that consumers may can the decisions, including enrollment decisions, that come from it. Please send your religious symbologyAb test results directly to Matt. Matt,...

...thank you again so much for joiningus today. Thank you very much. Or attracting today's new post traditional learnersmeans adopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educations data driven, enterprise wide approachto enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook withfifty percent brand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growthchallenges, downloaded today for free at Helix Educationcom. Playbook you've been listening toenrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the shown itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you somuch for listening. Until next time.

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