‘What Are You Called to Do?’: Marketing Religiously Affiliated Institutions

Discussing the confluence of marketing, politics, culture, and purpose at religiously affiliated higher ed institutions.

By: Higher Voltage
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Rosemont College opened its doors 100 years ago as a women’s college at a time when few women had access to higher education. Today, the small Catholic college outside of Philadelphia enrolls both women and men, and continues to be a purpose-driven institution that strives to help students find their purpose in life. 

“What are you called to do in life? Not just what your job is, but what are you called to do?” Jayson Boyers, Rosemont’s president, asks on the latest Higher Voltage, as he delves into the nuances of leading a religiously affiliated institution. Along the way he explores with host Kevin Tyler how leading and marketing such schools is both similar and different from secular institutions, and explains how he strives to find a common cause as he navigates the sensitive lines between religion, politics, culture, and student expectations.

  • How Rosemont College market their diverse demographics to prospective students (4:01)
  • Thoughts on if Catholic institutions are inherently poised to provide inclusivity (7:10)
  • Using Catholicism as a central marketing message (10:05)
  • How new perceptions of religion have impacted Rosemont’s brand (13:35)
  • Determining the need to make DEI a priority on campus and getting institutional buy-in (18:20)
  • Insights from the diversity and belonging survey done on campus (20:35)
  • Navigating conversations around diversity while being a Catholic Institution (25:30)
  • Obstacles other institutions face regarding diversity and belonging (30:50)
  • Has ‘The Great Resignation’ hit Rosemont (39:13)
  • Advice for other religiously affiliated institutions (42:25)

Relevant readings:

Read the full transcript here:

Kevin Tyler:
Hello, and welcome to Higher Voltage, a podcast about higher education that explores what’s working, what’s not, and what needs to change in higher ed marketing and administration. I’m your host, Kevin Tyler.

Kevin Tyler:
Welcome back Higher Voltage. We have been away for a couple of months, but we’re excited to be back this time with Jayson Boyers from Rosemont College, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. I’m excited to chat with you, sir, about lots of different things, including marketing a religiously affiliated institution, some really compelling data points around your student demographics and some other projects that you have going on over there at Rosemont. Thank you for joining us. Before we get started, I’d love for you to just give a brief introduction of yourself and give us kind of a high level of Rosemont college, just kind of what you’re about.

Jayson Boyers:
Yes. So, I am a first generation college grad. I’m actually proud of that. I call myself the accidental president because I have many people who wouldn’t of guessed that I would’ve even graduated from college, and I ended up the president of one. I take the opportunities and privileges that I was afforded to get here. I don’t take them for granted because it has transformed my life. Both my wife and I are first generation college grads. And it has given us opportunities in life that we couldn’t have imagined ever having.

Jayson Boyers:
I’ve been able to travel, stand on The Great Wall of China, do things I would’ve never guessed, have a life I would never guess. I really got into this work because I was committed to changing economic destinies generationally, and I think college education and a pathway through education beyond high school is the way to do that. I actually, I grew up walking to mass with my grandmother. I was a son of a single mom, my first five years. And then she married, but we were working class family. I remember going to mass with my grandmother. I always wanted to lead a Catholic institution.

Jayson Boyers:
When Rosemont came up, I was excited to apply and get the job. Rosemont’s my second presidency and my first religious affiliated presidency. Rosemont’s been around for a hundred years now. We’re actually celebrating our hundred year birthday. It started out as an all-women’s Catholic college and then it went co-ed in the early 2000s. Now I would say we’re this wonderful diverse campus and we’re co-ed, and we are also close to a majority minority school. So, we have a lot of different backgrounds, a lot of different religious affiliations, a lot of different socioeconomic backgrounds.

Jayson Boyers:
So, it’s quite a dynamic institution to be a part of. And we talk about the power of small, where we really see you as an individual. I think that’s the gift of small colleges.

Kevin Tyler:
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Kevin Tyler:
Your demographics are really pretty compelling in that your student body is just under about a thousand students. You’re about 41% white, 33% black, 8.5% Hispanic or Latino. You have a very, very healthy mix of folks going to Rosemont and from different socioeconomic back backgrounds. I’m curious around how you start to tell the story of Rosemont College to your perspective students in a way that lifts up all these people, different kinds of people.

Jayson Boyers:
I love that question and I appreciate you doing your research on our population because you kind of captured it in numbers, but I think we go beyond the numbers. Being at our a hundred years, one of the things I’ve asked of our community is honor our past in a way that lights up the way forward. I think you can go back to the very beginning. Rosemont College responded to a call to open Catholic institutions, but not just a Catholic college. It was a Catholic college focused on a pathway for, in 1921, a pathway for women to complete a college education, which was not the common pathway in 1921.

Jayson Boyers:
So, it took a population who maybe were marginalized and gave them a pathway to more fully participate in the destiny of the communities that they belong to and to create a path that may be different. I don’t know that we’ve stopped doing that and we may have moved on to expand the opportunity for those marginalized voices to find their voice in our society and to bring different voices together. One of the things I think we do really well is we help students find their unique voice, their contribution to society, and not let anyone tell them they’re less than a full participant in shaping their world.

Jayson Boyers:
I’ve fallen love with that every day in allowing these students to find their voice. In a college education, you get the degree, you get the job, but the most important thing is you become this whole person who is going to impact their communities. It’s not a transaction of just getting a job. That’s important and we want to build the careers. And we were ranked one of the top 10 colleges as far as social mobility of our graduates, and the only college in Philadelphia, college or university that was ranked in that list by U.S. News & World Report. So, getting that career is important.

Jayson Boyers:
But more important is becoming a citizen of your community and being a good citizen. I think today that really speaks to it. And I would say one more thing. The phrase that was used back in 1921 that’s still used today and burned in every alum here is meeting the wants of the age. I think that we still do a very good job of that. And we meet the wants of the age by making sure we don’t miss any one person’s voice because they have something to contribute.

Kevin Tyler:
I have so many questions that come out of your very first response that I’d like to follow up on. But the first one is that like, I work with a couple of religiously affiliated and institutions in my day job. Quite often what we hear from them is that there is this like tradition, this history of making important decisions about moving communities forward before it was the cool thing to do. Do you think that Catholic institutions, at their core, are inherently poised to provide that kind of inclusivity? If so, do you think that is still at the core of these kinds of institutions?

Jayson Boyers:
So, I’m biased here. I actually am a big fan of Catholic education and a big fan of how it has unfolded in the history, and I’m talking right down to primary school all the way up through colleges. One of the reasons I’m a big fan of it is Catholic institutions haven’t just been dispersed in suburbs. They’ve been in the cities, in some of the most difficult neighborhoods, providing a education pathway that I think lifts up folks.

Jayson Boyers:
I think that’s why you see a wide range of faiths who will send their children to Catholic schools. That a Catholic school is not just made up of Catholic children. Others see the value in being rooted in ethics, being rooted in this. I call it an apparatus of meaning making, right? You’re making meaning in the life you’re living in. I think, not that other schools don’t do that, but I think Catholic schools, that’s a central part of what we do. So, it really is a definition for us. I find just value in how we do things.

Jayson Boyers:
I think we are uniquely positioned because again, we haven’t gone just to the fast growing areas of suburbs. Historically, Catholic schools have been across different socioeconomic neighborhoods. I think that, that also pushes our institutions, our schools, our colleges, our secondary schools, that pushes us to think how we can best meet our mission of transforming these lives and turning them into the leaders that we think are necessary to make society a better place, and to follow the values of our faith, even as we recruit others into our schools to have that experience.

Jayson Boyers:
They may come from very different faiths, but usually there’s common cause. That common cause really pushes our students forward. I just got done meeting with a great student, which is one of the reasons I showed up a few minutes late. He’s in college, he’s a junior in college, he’s coaching youth football. He’s been involved at this Baptist Church for his entire life. And he loves his education here because it just fits with how he sees himself as he engages his community and what he’s called to do.

Jayson Boyers:
I think that, what are you called to do in life? Not just what your job is, but what are you called to do? I think that’s why we’re poised to kind of push the boundaries sometimes before society is ready to do that.

Kevin Tyler:
Yeah. I’m curious about how central the Catholicism is in your marketing messages. Is it front and center? Or is it more about attracting the kinds people who share traits with the religion, the Catholic religion that do well at a place like Rosemont?

Jayson Boyers:
So, yes. I would say both. I would say we are really good here about putting our mission out there, putting our values out there, and really talking about our history quite a bit. Being connected to the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, which is a society of sisters. I think that we have been very upfront that, that’s very central to who we are. If you come on campus, you’ll see that. We have this beautiful chapel and still hold mass on campus. It’s not required, but we hold mass on campus. But I think also because of the roots of the society.

Jayson Boyers:
It’s a very inclusive understanding of our faith. If you think about the word catholic, the word catholic, the small C catholic is universal, right? So, we believe that we share more in common than maybe divides us. I really think that, that has been the lens by which we’ve looked at meeting our mission. So, it’s very easy to bring others in. We have Muslim students, we have Protestant students, Catholic students. We have atheists who come here, who see value in this type of education.

Jayson Boyers:
Yes, it’s front and center. This is who we are. This is what has transformed us and how we manifest our college and the uniqueness of our college. But, and part of that is seeing the light that God has put in each individual and realizing that their voice is important because it’s a God given voice and a God given purpose. I think that drives us, but it also allows others to say, “That’s the type of place I want to be at. I want to be at a place that values my voice. I want to be at a place where I can figure things out, figure the type of person I want to be.”

Jayson Boyers:
I started my presidency at the very beginning of COVID. I was actually appointed January, 2020. COVID hit March, 2020, changed the world. I started the first year. Then we had this large discussion and a lot of unrest around racial injustice and how we were going to think about our communities. I remember going to my first forum. I wasn’t even here yet as president, but they were Zooming it because COVID was here. So, I jumped in the Zoom, and I heard one of the students here say, and this is when I fell in love with students here, I heard them say, “We really want to get involved in this discussion because we believe what we’ve learned at Rosemont would help us raise the level of dialogue.”

Jayson Boyers:
And listening to those students speak, I would like to take most of Congress, make them sit in a classroom and listen to our students, because they were talking at a level far beyond the national discourse. That’s what I want to hear. This is going to sound flippant. It is easy to figure out a way to make a living. What’s hard is figuring out a way to make a difference. I believe we create both pathways for students here. They learn how to become a person of value that companies want, but they also learn how to make their communities better. I think taking away one without the other college is too important to be given to someone who doesn’t know how to be a good citizen.

Kevin Tyler:
I’m glad you mentioned kind of a national discourse, I’m curious about if, or how, kind of the new perceptions of religion have impacted the Rosemont brand, if at all, and even, I guess, further, the new kind of brand of politics in America. And if there’s been some sort of impact on some of Rosemont’s success there.

Jayson Boyers:
Well, I’ll try to unpack that a little bit. I think that I want to make sure I understand. What do you mean by the national discourse around religion?

Kevin Tyler:
So, there seems to be a faction of the religious population in America that is pulling some of the thought towards, kind of a different space than what religion seems to be founded upon and it should be about. I’m curious if Rosemont often gets lumped in with some of these different kinds of actors. I think about places like Liberty University, for instance, that does Rosemont get cast in that same shadow, just by virtue of being part of the same religiously affiliated network?

Jayson Boyers:
Yeah. So, I think that’s a good question. It’s not been my experience that we’ve been cast in that group or that kind of discourse that, say a very politically involved movement might be. I think there’s a lot of wrestling with why a Catholic college, right? Or why a religious affiliated college versus … And there’s some questions. People come at it from very different ways. Some people come at it from, I want my students to go to learn the values that I think are important, so I’m going to put them in the institution that I think is coming from my perspective.

Jayson Boyers:
I think people look at it as, is it less than because it’s a religious college and not a secular college? We see different assumptions across the spectrum. What I can say is the biggest question parents have is, how is my son or daughter going to be better because they come to your environment, your community? The last couple of years have been hard on everybody. And we talk a lot about it here. I think there’s been a navigation towards supporting communities.

Jayson Boyers:
I think there’s a place where we were able to leverage what makes us very rooted in our Catholic history, in our Catholic tradition. The parts of that, they can create the supporting community. The parents say, “Okay, I want my son or daughter to be a part of something, and that’s something that I want them to be a part of.” I think one of the toughest things, and I’ll just be transparent and hope this doesn’t come back to haunt me, but I’m going to say it anyway. There is a process by which, and we’re seeing it most recently in international events, but where there’s pressure to make a comment on every single issue in the news, right?

Jayson Boyers:
I take that seriously. But one of the things that I think about first and foremost, is I want to make statements that’s supportive of our student community. If something directly impacts a population within our student community, I want to stand up for those students. I don’t need to be involved in every issue in every national discourse. If it impacts our students, though, I’m going to step forward and be supportive in that particular issue, and really think about how I can be supportive.

Jayson Boyers:
You mentioned our demographics, our makeup. So, there are some issues that are just very important to our students that I believe I’ve got to come out and comment on. There are some issues that every week I could put out a statement, and I’m not sure how effective that would be. So, my rule has been, not if it impacts every issue, that would impact a Catholic institution, but specifically does a political issue impact a population who are a part of our community?

Jayson Boyers:
The other thing I will say is I think our approach to our Catholic tradition is finding common cause and finding areas where we can connect and not divide. I think that has kept us out of some of the concerns around religion mixing with politics.

Kevin Tyler:
Yeah. I think that’s a really fair answer. I think that it’s really easy to cast a bunch of places in the same light if there isn’t the investigation and the research done, but I will share, just to be transparent as well, how surprised I was to read about the diversity and belonging report. I was very, very excited about that and the work that you’re doing on campus around making sure that, not only people are counted, but also heard and understood. I’m curious about the impetus of that work. We already talked about the demographics. How did you determine that, that was A, the thing that you needed to do and make it a priority and then get people’s buy-in around campus, and then if you could also describe what you hope to achieve with that work?

Jayson Boyers:
Yeah. So, I would say the first decision I made as president was to create that initiative around diversity and belonging. How I determined that was a necessary issue, was 20 years ago, we were predominantly a white female Catholic college. In over 20 years, and I credit one of my predecessors to really being committed to this, we transformed into this very diverse community, but I think where we need to do more work as a community is how we support this very diverse community, if that makes sense. So, I became committed to figuring out how we could support it.

Jayson Boyers:
We have a lot of work to do, and COVID hasn’t made it easier because it’s made it harder to get groups together, to create that dialogue. But I was committed that this is a long term initiative that needs to have the force of the president’s office behind it, so that it’s not seen as something that is just one person’s job. But in fact, it’s an institutional initiative. Ultimately, I believe it benefits all of our students because we’re living in a more connected and more connected world.

Jayson Boyers:
So, you have to learn how to make connections with people who come from very different backgrounds, very different experiences, who live very different truths, and also have very different needs. And if you’re going to be a leader in this global community, then you need to start now. When you’re in college, understanding how somebody is your partner in this community who may come from very different backgrounds. I was committed that we did the right thing by becoming a very diverse community. But in fact, we now needed to do the hard work to create the structures that support that community.

Kevin Tyler:
That’s great. Can you share some of the, I guess, insights that you identified from the research that you’ve done on campus through the diversity and belonging survey?

Jayson Boyers:
Yes. I would state this. We had a process that, we call it real talk, where we went around and had these small groups. I think that it was a really great decision by our diversity and belonging lead to go around and do that. And we began collecting themes and information. But I would say we’re in the process. We’re at the beginning of this. And trying to unravel the last 20 years of how we can best support. These are very initial, I would say is insight, so I want to qualify it.

Jayson Boyers:
What I want to get into is I think that there was an idea from students, staff, and faculty, and we talked to everybody, from those who worked on our grounds and did maintenance for us, to those who worked in public safety, to the students, to the faculty, to our business office, there was a general feeling that Rosemont was a place that was welcoming, but that not everyone felt heard or seen. That’s a tough thing for an organization to walk through.

Jayson Boyers:
Our community did it with a tremendous amount of grace. And we put in structures to make sure that we’re getting everybody’s voice, understanding their perspective and incorporating that into how we implement policies, procedures. One of the things that I wanted us to look at, even as an institution is, I think from a diversity standpoint, one of the most important things is making sure that the leaders of the institution, those say director and up, that you create that diversity of representation, that if we have students who come from different backgrounds, different ethnicities, etc, that there’s a representation there among the leadership that are guiding the institution.

Jayson Boyers:
We looked at our hiring policies and how we can recruit better and look and advertise in places that we could expand our talent pool and create career paths and create a real sense of a leadership that represents the student body that we serve. I think there was also discussions about it in the class. How can we teach in a way that makes sure we’re bringing in all voices? I think, even from the standpoint of how we deal with campus interactions between public safety and our students, and hearing both sides and the situations they’re put in, and these are not easy discussions, right?

Jayson Boyers:
Because no one ever wants to feel like they’re not making someone feel welcome. But we all have biases. We all have things that we don’t see. This became a campus-wide conversation to help us really face areas that we could work towards and improve. And we had a great campus full of engaged leaders that really talked through that. There was one situation that I can remember where students came together for kind of a panel. And they invited certain members of the leader on this panel.

Jayson Boyers:
And I’m telling you again, the level of discourse these students have, they are thinkers, which is really great. Sometimes they’re even more thinkers than I would say their elders are in how they’re looking at the world, because they come at it from fresh perspectives, with a deeper understanding of how to respect others, and others who or different. I feel, just based on how the students have navigated this pandemic and everything else that has happened, I feel more encouraged about our future.

Jayson Boyers:
I hear a lot of people say they’re less encouraged about our future. I’m telling you, I think just this next generation is a generation that’s going to add to our future and not take away from it.

Kevin Tyler:
Totally, totally. I’m so intrigued by this because so often in my work, I hear clients of mine, their desire for the institution is to recruit a more diverse class, but the conversation stops at the recruitment and not how the institution’s going to serve and support the more diverse class. So, the excitement I felt about the diversity and belonging report, and I would encourage our listeners to go out and take a look at that. We’ll have a link on the episode page.

Kevin Tyler:
But there is a starting point. You have a list of things that you want to look at moving forward and plan and enact, which to me goes far, in a way beyond what I typically see at this institutions that are saying, we need to recruit a more diverse class. It makes me excited about the trajectory of your institution, because of course, you’ve already realized a lot of success in recruiting diverse audiences, right? I don’t know how many institutions have 33% black student population. There aren’t very many. I’m curious how you market and tell the story around diversity while being a Catholic institution.

Kevin Tyler:
There are some barriers, I would imagine, you have to break down for some people who are looking at Rosemont for the first time, or you might get questions about, what is it like to be a gay person here? Or what is it like to be a black person in here? Whatever the difference is. How do you navigate those kinds of conversations as an institution? I mean, I don’t know how often you are having those conversations, but I’m assuming it’s part of the Rosemont marketing kind of process.

Jayson Boyers:
Yeah. I think we lead first with our values. A couple of things I want to say. It is important to me that we go beyond just the marketing, right? We actually had a record class last September, and we’re actually trending ahead of that class this September.

Kevin Tyler:
That is wild. That is wild.

Jayson Boyers:
Yeah, so first two years, the recruiting has gone the right direction. And I credited our team. I brought in a really great leader who I’ve worked with in the past, but one of the first things we did was we evaluated, who’s the student who we can support their success the best? And we created, what I would say is eight avatars. And they’re not specifically like one type of student. They’re a very diverse student backgrounds, right?

Jayson Boyers:
But we know there was some common traits that we found that regardless of background, regardless of ethnicity, regardless of faith, these students had these common things. Then we went out and we recruited to those trades that we felt like really make a Rosemont student successful. There’s a student who was a little underestimated, they don’t come maybe necessarily from out of affluence. They may be a first generation college student. They’ve overcome adversity in some way.

Jayson Boyers:
We looked at all these traits. Then we said, these are students we want to bring in. The summer I arrived, the class coming in that fall was half of what it was. Basically we doubled that class the next September. And the way we did it is we went after students that we believed, not only would say yes to us, but would be successful. But then we asked the next question. We’re bringing in these students, what do we need to think about to make them successful?

Jayson Boyers:
To be honest, that’s a process we’re in right now. And that’s a question that never ends. You don’t get the final answer to that. It is an ongoing learning of how, what we’re doing, impacts the success of these students, and how we can wrestle with it, and how we can make it better. We assume this would be good, but it wasn’t in how we can change course with that. And realizing that it is student centric. I want to state this too.

Jayson Boyers:
We’re not perfect. I believe … We’re Catholic, confession’s good for the soul. We’ve been perfect. We won’t always be perfect going forward, but I think it’s important. There are two types of institutions, in my view, in higher education, and especially among small colleges. Let’s say college is under 5,000, right? There are two types. And I would call them the museum or the living organism. A museum is a beautiful campus.

Jayson Boyers:
Everybody like going back there, take a little walk, you remember the heydays, it’s a place to appreciate. Then there’s the living organism. The living organism is constantly evolving. It’s constantly adapting. And it realizes that at the center, it’s there to make sure that it serves these students’ best interest. Now, I said best interest, not always what the student wants, because we disappoint students with policies all the time, right? But always in their best interest. As well as we can make decisions about their best interests, we try to do that in our human imperfect ways.

Jayson Boyers:
I want us to be a living organism. I don’t want us to be a museum to the past. I want us to honor the past and let it light its way towards the future. And I want us to meet the ones of our age. I think this diversity and belonging conversation, and how to support these students, it cannot stop at just, we have a diverse population. We’ve checked that box, look at us. We’re so proud. It’s got to be, how are we transforming lives? And, in how are we transforming lives, how are we supporting these students through everything they’re going in?

Jayson Boyers:
These students have gone through a pandemic. They’ve gone through a really, a bring to surface racial injustice that has been there for a very long time. We’re just bringing it to the surface now and actually having some honest, transparent conversations about it. Now they’re going through the biggest conflict in Europe that they’ve seen since the 1940s. Imagine what this generation has gone through. I mean, my generation, oh, I look back, I mean, we went through who shot JR and button fly jeans. This generation has gone through a tremendous amount of real stuff.

Kevin Tyler:
That’s true.

Jayson Boyers:
I think we need to respect that. I think that’s the kind of transformational events that institutions need to be a living organism, and evolve, and adapt, and try to wrestle with what’s going on with their students.

Kevin Tyler:
I’m inspired by what you’re saying. I’m curious if you have, just from a personal perspective, just your thoughts about what gets in the way of other institutions thinking the way that you are thinking about what we’re talking about?

Jayson Boyers:
It’s hard. It’s a hard road to go down. I want to state this. I always want to say I talk in the ideal. We still wrestle with all these issues, with resistance of change. I do not want to come across as Rosemont, as some bastion on the hill. That’s not what I’m saying at all. In fact, I’m saying there’s great humility in going down this road. And there’s great pressure, right? So, you have colleges and universities who are struggling to stay in existence, right? They’re struggling to figure out how they can adapt to a model that has changed significantly and expectations have changed significantly.

Jayson Boyers:
Now I think higher ed, there was a lot of students need to come to us and adapt to us. For years, that was okay, and now it’s not. Students are like, I don’t need to come to you. Okay. I’m going to do my own thing. You have to really show your value. I think that kind of changes hard. I think there are structures in place. I think it’s really difficult for a large university, and maybe not the model for a large university.

Jayson Boyers:
I think, for small colleges, there’s a lot of pressures going on. I deal with them. Other college presidents deal with them. I have a lot of empathy. I think there’s a lot of hesitancy to admit that there are areas you’re falling short. Right? Because then I think the perception is you open yourself up to criticism. I haven’t found that to be the case. What I’ve found to be the case is if you can show a willingness to do the community building that is going to best serve your students, I think parents are more willing to trust you with their students.

Jayson Boyers:
I get all the time, so I had a parent call, they were upset about something. I got on the call, they were talking to my assistant, and I got on the call, and the first thing they said was, “Oh, I didn’t actually think I’d talk to you.” I think it’s the same thing with the students. Like I said, I just came from a meeting with … There were six or seven students who wanted to talk to me over an issue. I think that willingness to talk and to say, “We’re not going to get this perfect. So, I want you to understand why we made decisions. Then you can think we got it wrong and then we can talk about it. In some cases you might change my mind.”

Jayson Boyers:
I think how having that kind of community doesn’t reduce your authority, you don’t lose control. You actually create an environment, I think, that is healthy and allows the development of these students. And again, I always tell the students the same thing. My decision process is what I believe, to the best of my ability, is in your best interest. Not what you want all the time, but in your best interest, but I’m always willing to talk about it. I think a lot of institutions, I understand why they’re fearful of opening that door, especially around let’s face it, especially around diversity and belonging, because there’s a lot of challenges.

Jayson Boyers:
You can quickly have a headline or you can quickly be criticized for something. But I think you got to take that risk because to serve your mission, you’re trying to transform lives. I honestly still believe that a well rounded college experience, not just in the classroom, but in the classroom and out of the classroom, the social, the spiritual, the academic experience that a student has is the best pathway to a meaningful life. I believe that it’s all a part of the process and I believe we should look at access is not the opposite of quality.

Jayson Boyers:
Access is creating these pathways and then doing the hard work to support these students so that they can have this experience and they can make changes in their lives. I mean, that’s why … I’m sorry. I could talk about this forever.

Kevin Tyler:
Oh no, I love it. I started smiling because I love what you just said about access not being opposite to quality. I love that because I think that’s what a lot of people think, especially as they chase these rankings and whatever else. I wanted to also mention that a couple of years ago, I wrote this very short blog piece about how DI works should be a cabinet level position. And oftentimes, in many institutions, usually much larger ones, just based on the structure and the way that the place is built, it’s very easy for the leader of an institution to be far removed from some of the really emotional issues that are going on, on campus.

Kevin Tyler:
Whether it’s through faculty and with students and staff, but the smaller schools that have more of a leader to student connection, you get to understand better what the emotion is about and not respond to it in the typical way that most institutions respond to it, which is by putting together a task force and having a big binder of results that sits on a shelf somewhere and that no one ever opens up again. I really appreciate the way that you talk about this in terms of this is a place that we want to optimize opportunity, no matter where you are from, and having those conversations openly. And for the part that you said about like, yes, we are in a time where it’s easy to be criticized, but the criticism is not more important than the action I’m being criticized for, right?

Kevin Tyler:
So, I’m trying to do the right things and we are trying to diversify our campus. And yes, mistakes will be made, but there is a way to navigate that, that doesn’t reflect as badly on the institution as it can at some other places. So, you having these open conversations and you doing this work around diversity and belonging, even though you’re just starting, it’s something that’s more than a lot of institutions are thinking about and the ways that they’re approaching it.

Jayson Boyers:
I would add something to that because I think sometimes the president can be the face of something. I think, from a natural, how people think of hierarchy, it’s important for the president’s office to be behind this. But this work is not done by one person or one leader. This is a community where one of the mistakes I think is made, and, and this is just from my perspective, and again, I don’t have the corner on the truth, is that this work gets assigned to one person.

Jayson Boyers:
I don’t think that’s the case. I think this really has to be in the DNA of every part of the institution. And it’s not one person’s work. Or why isn’t this one person doing this, this and this? Because it’s not one person. We have a community here. We all are responsible to this. You do not create belonging by it being one person. I think that’s a lot of pressure on that role. But I do agree, I think the cabinet level offers the authority, and that’s why we wanted to make ours a cabinet level position. But I think going beyond that, it’s not that one person job.

Jayson Boyers:
It really is that when that person, maybe I don’t think this is a very good analogy, but almost it’s like plate spinning, right? It’s that person to make sure the plates are spinning and that we’re making progress and they got to move from one area to the other and keep the momentum going, right? [crosstalk 00:37:55]. But it takes a good immunity effort of pulling this forward. We’ve got great student leaders who are involved in this.

Jayson Boyers:
We have a higher education student affairs program in which we fully fund the tuition. So, there’s no tuition paid by the student, but they have to give us 15 to 20 hours a work a week. And this gives us a whole old group of students who work in every part of the institution. Many of them are involved in our diversity and belonging efforts, and they’re great leaders. Quite honestly, they’ve taught me a lot in just their actions and what they’ve done more than what they’ve told me.

Jayson Boyers:
This is again, I’ll say it again, this needs to be work approach with great humility. I follow a teacher named Father Richard Ward, he’s a Franciscan. And you should check him out. He’s a brilliant, I think, spiritual leader, but he says, “How you do one thing is how you do everything.” I think diversity and belonging needs to be that kind of thing. However you do the one thing is how you do everything, and there’s power in that statement.

Kevin Tyler:
I agree. I have two more questions, at least in my head right now, but depending on what you say next, I might have more. I want to see about the great resignation, I mean, it’s on … Everyone’s talking about it in higher ed and droves a staff, and in some places, faculty for many different reasons are leaving higher ed or leaving their institutions for others. I’m curious if that phenomena has hit Rosemont. Are you dealing with that now?

Jayson Boyers:
Yeah, it’s interesting. We just looked at numbers. One of the things we do is look at yearly numbers and kind of compare apples to apples. How are we doing compared to nationally and why? We definitely, we felt the labor pinch. We felt some people who just wanted to retire, didn’t want to come in, or they didn’t want to work on site. COVID just, it was … They had health issues or whatever. Or they wanted a change in lifestyle. I mean, I think this pandemic has created a lot of reevaluation. We’re back to the point where we have been able to fill, but it took us a minute to do that.

Jayson Boyers:
I think like many colleges, they felt that pinch of a different take on the great resignation, in that I think that it’s a good time for businesses, colleges, all types of industries to figure out, what kind of community you’re going to build, and you’ll attract the people to the community who kind of match what that community needs are. I always say you don’t attract what you want, you to attract who you are. I think the great resignation has been an opportunity to work on how we’re going to build culture. Again, I would say we’re early in that conversation, but that’s our intent.

Jayson Boyers:
We want people to be happy to come here to see progress. Part of the great resignation was people being frustrated, not feeling like they were doing meaningful work and what they were trading whole chunks of their life away without feeling like they were making a difference or creating some meaning around it. I think it’s a challenge to every leader to try to figure out how you can create that meaningful work. The old joke was, kind of you leave bad bosses or bad companies. I think you leave companies where you don’t feel like the trade-off is worth what you’re giving up.

Jayson Boyers:
I think the challenge is to create and help our employees understand the difference they’re making. I’ve started doing these coffees. I do them, coffees with each department. So, I’ll just go and we’ll set 45 minutes to an hour and have them just tell me, they answer just a couple questions. What’s really filling your cup? Then what could we do to help make your job better, make you have a better experience? That’s been the helpful thing. I don’t know that I’ve solved anyone’s problems, but having that FaceTime, I felt like, has made a difference in those relationships. That makes people feel connected.

Jayson Boyers:
The great resignation, we haven’t really deviated from the national trends. But what I will say is I think we’ve taken it as an opportunity to say, how are we creating meaningful roles and meaningful work for our community? We’re continuing to work towards that. We’re not there, but I think it’s something we’re very aware of.

Kevin Tyler:
Then lastly, what advice do you have for other religiously affiliated institutions trying to figure out how to navigate this tightening market and remain true to who they are?

Jayson Boyers:
I actually believe the best thing to do is actually run towards who you are. One of the things I really believe is you can come up with a campaign. You can boost numbers for a year by coming up with a very slick marketing campaign or strategy or pay a third party to get you this number of leads. So, you can do that once, but you can’t repeat it. In order to create sustainable colleges and universities, even faith, etc, you’ve got to be authentic to who you are. Again, you attract who you are, not what you want.

Jayson Boyers:
If you are authentic to who you are, you’re going to find your students. They out there. It’s not even a scarcity thing. They’re there. I think we’ve shown that here because of the success we’ve had in enrollment, but you have to be very clear about who you are and then go to those you can serve best and not worry about being everything to everybody. I think you’ve got to run towards your identity, be very rooted. I think that for organizations. I think that for our own lives and our own journeys.

Jayson Boyers:
I think that when things become chaotic, when challenges happen in life, I get very rooted in, who do I want to be? And just focus on my own internal work rather than the stuff outside of me that I can’t control. No college can control the marketplace. What you can control is who you are and the students you can serve best. And then you reach out to those students. I think, in more cases than not, you’ll find growth.

Kevin Tyler:
This has been great. I just have to say that the work that I do every day gives me the opportunity to have conversations like this one with colleges and universities all over the country. What I try to do every day in my work is ask deeper questions about the desires of the institution to see exactly how my work could actually help them. When I hear someone say, we want to recruit a more diverse class, we want to elevate our place in the rankings, my immediate next question is why? And how will the people you invite here be served?

Kevin Tyler:
What will you do with the success that you achieve with this new rankings position? It’s not about the institution anymore. The conversation has to be about the student and what’s going to make them successful and thrive in your community. I think the accountability part of what I do for a living in marketing and branding for higher ed institutions is going to require more substantive conversations around that because I don’t really have any interest in helping recruit people to a place that’s not going to serve them in the way they need and deserve to be served.

Kevin Tyler:
I love talking to people like you who get that and who say, we can do a better job, and we need to do the research to do this. What that yields is a fuller and more cohesive student experience. And it creates a connection with your institution and they might become donors, and they might become faculty members. They might become staff members of yours because you took the time to do the work and have the conversations necessary to create connection among your community.

Kevin Tyler:
I want to say thank you for that. Because as a not very religious person, I wasn’t sure how this conversation was going to go, right? I’ve read about all the things and just read this thing in Vanity Fair about Liberty. And I was like, okay, I’m just trying to prepare for this chat. I really appreciate how you go about doing the work that you do for as many different kinds people you do it for.

Jayson Boyers:
I appreciate that. I really enjoyed the conversation, and I just appreciate the opportunity to have it with somebody who’s as passionate as I am.

Kevin Tyler:
Right on. I appreciate that. That’s it for this week’s episode of Higher Voltage. We’ll be back soon with a new episode. And until then, you can find us on Twitter @volthighered, and you can find me, Kevin Tyler on Twitter @Kevinctyler2.

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