May 19

Ending Departmental Silos & Focusing on Mission-Fit


Every school has a mission. Finding “mission-fit” students means recruiting people to your institution who really get who you are and why you do what you do. 

For me, the word “mission” means a whole lot more than what you have written in your mission statement.

Mission entails the gestalt of everything that makes your institution uniquely you.

gə-ˈstält: “something that is made of many parts and yet is somehow more than or different from the combination of its parts” –

The way I see it, mission encompasses your corporate, educational purpose, your values, and your underlying philosophy.

Mission-fit students share your outlook on life.

Or, at the very least, they share your outlook on education. 

When your educational offering and the overall corporate feel of your school match with a student’s views and desire, that’s mission-fit. 


Philip Dearborn helps us see how important it is to qualify mission-fit students for your school. One of our guests on The Higher Ed Marketer podcast, 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 mission-fit marketing strategies in higher education.

Mission-fit marketing is crucial to all institutions.

If you are a part of a faith-based school, finding mission-fit students is critical. 

As President of ABHE, I get a little bit more of a global picture at biblical higher education. We have 155 institutions across North America. Eighteen of those are in Canada, and those institutions are enrolling about 63,000 students. That’s 63,000 students who are laser focused on fulfilling God’s call in their lives. 

That’s why I’m so passionate about mission-fit [enrollment marketing]. 

Because biblical higher education is laser focused on biblical and theological education, it’s important that institutions are recruiting truly mission-fit students who are looking to fulfill God’s call on their life from beginning to end throughout the entire student experience.

However, while there is no doubt about the need for mission-fit students at faith-based institutions, mission-fit strategies are right for every institution. 

Again, every school has a mission, so finding mission-fit students only makes sense in the long run. 

As you match your school with like-minded students, they’ll get the most out of their time with you while enjoying the journey.

If you’re an art school, you’re trying to find students who need an art education. 

Or, if you’re in an engineering school, you need to look for students who not only want to be in the STEM fields, they should appreciate your approach to these subjects as well. 

Avoiding the hard work of clarifying your mission throughout the enrollment process only leads to trouble down the road.

I’ve heard it all before. 

“Hey, we’re really trying to increase the enrollment pool, so we’ve leaned into athletics to do that. The idea is to bring in as many student athletes to fill the rosters!” 

So you enroll them based on their desire to play. 

But guess what, when they get into their first week and they spend a day in chapel, they’re like, 

“Oh, you guys are kind of serious about this faith thing? What’s up with that?”

When you have friction between mission-fit students versus a student that’s just going to fill a roster or a seat on campus, that can really be detrimental to your institution.

Staying mission-fit is keeping your brand promise.

Philip nailed it when he said mission is a promise you make to your students.

In other words, it’s your brand promise.

When you talk about mission within higher education, or in the accreditation market, your mission is the promise you make to the students. It starts there. 

Mission also drives everything the institution does. You need institutional alignment to make sure that you’re not compromising on that mission right from the beginning of the student lifecycle all the way through. 

If you’re an engineering school and you make the decision to enroll these art students to fill more seats, there’s going to be an inconsistency there. Those students aren’t going to have a good experience on your campus. In fact, what they do is actually take away from the experience of those who are mission-fit students. 

Of course, I know you’d never want to go back on your brand promise. 

So why do we enrollment marketers fall into this error so many times?

There is a lot of pressure to hit high enrollment numbers.

The driving incentive of enrollment simply doesn’t reward qualifying students through a missionally focused recruitment process.

The reality is there’s a whole lot of pressure on enrollment officers and marketing departments to fill seats. Sometimes that pressure becomes so overwhelming that you start to cheat, and you start to compromise on your mission.  

It doesn’t happen all at once. It’s iterative. 

“Well, if we just recruit these students…” Before you know it, over time you’ve watered down your mission, and you’ve moved away from really what your main target ought to be.

This slippery slope of misalignment leads to recruiting students who’ll likely have bad experiences at your institution.

The worst part is that these bad experiences don’t really reflect the reality of your institution.

They are just symptoms of mismatched priorities, values, and of course, mission.

Avoid missional mismatches as much as you can by seeking and qualifying mission-fit students during your enrollment marketing and recruitment. 

Discover more when you listen to the podcast!

Like all of our blog post reviews of The Higher Ed Marketer podcasts, there’s so much more to learn in the podcasts themselves.

Later in our interview, Philip explains more how they use social media tools to create community among students at the top of the funnel. 

Listen to our interview with Philip Dearborn to get even more insights into:

  • 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

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