Employer partnerships are often under pursued – or at least, under executed – in higher education. But for a faith-based institution with religious-specific degree programs and connections to a denomination, partnerships with churches can also help increase enrollment.
At North Central University, a school located in downtown Minneapolis near the US Bank Stadium and affiliated with the Assemblies of God (AG) denomination, the new president is launching a key initiative to partner with regional AG churches.
The university – and the participating churches – are already seeing benefits and opportunities in their partnership.
We invited Michael Price, Chief Enrollment Officer at North Central University, to come on the Enrollment Growth University podcast to discuss how institutions can get creative with employer partnerships and specifically how religiously-affiliated institutions can partner with churches on enrollment growth initiatives.
Benefits and Opportunities of Employer Partnerships with Churches
“We have a couple of dynamics that are happening right now at North Central,” Michael said. “One is we have a fairly new president. This is one of his key initiatives – beginning to partner with churches, particularly AG churches.”
These local churches want to partner with a university to help them train their next generation leaders in terms of ministry and mission. Non-traditional options make that possible.
“We are a little behind the times,” Michael admitted, “but we are moving forward with launching our grad and online programs at the university.”
Consequently, one of North Central’s initiatives is to engage in new, important strategic partnerships, especially with AG churches. These partnerships are critical to North Central’s plan to launch and grow their new programs.
Nurturing partnerships with area employers is nothing new in higher education, but North Central is developing deeper dual-credit partnerships with these AG-affiliated churches.
“We obviously do offer a discount for students that attend our program through a partnership,” Michael said. “So, you know, they’re going to pay less per credit than other students who might come through other channels.”
North Central sees it as a way to pay back the church for helping with some of those recruitment and admissions services.
“There’s a couple aspects of our program that are beneficial (for churches),” Michael told us. “One, it provides AG (ministerial) credentials, which is really important if you ever want to be a pastor or work in the church.”
But North Central’s idea goes beyond providing ministerial education for its denomination’s houses of worship. Under their model, churches can set up an integrative learning experience, similar to an internship, that meets guidelines set up by the university and congruent with those of the regional accrediting association.
For participating churches, the nice thing about these credit-bearing courses is that the church has some flexibility to determine what the student experience looks like as long as it meets North Central’s guidelines.
Plus, churches themselves have some responsibility in terms of marketing, recruitment, and student support for those students in this dual credit program.
“The framework is a bundled service. The church is going to be responsible with helping with lead generation marketing, the recruiting process, and then, obviously, on the back end, really help with … retention,” Michael said.
It’s an evolving relationship.
The church itself becomes the arm to market the partnership. Whether they do that through their congregation, their community, or other relationships they have, they’re going to be responsible for making connections with those students, talking about the program, and sharing the application process.
“They’ll even be responsible for helping collect documents that are needed to get that student to a … point where we can make a decision,” Michael said.
Once the student is admitted, Michael’s team can engage more proactively, taking the student through the registration and financial aid processes.
The Future of Employer Partnerships at North Central
“(For) a smaller private school and kind of resource restricted in a way, these are great opportunities to build partnerships through affiliations that we already have that can really help us grow enrollment at a more accelerated pace,” Michael said.
It’s a cheaper approach than traditional marketing, too.
Next Steps Advice for Higher Education Employer Partnerships
“Take a look at it,” Michael said when we asked him for advice on how to get started developing church partnerships.
Also ask questions. Is this even possible? Does this violate any accrediting issues?
“Because we have such a strong affinity with denomination,” Michael told us, “it really is really a no brainer for us to kind of move forward in this direction. So, I would say just be proactive and look at ways of diversifying your portfolio in terms of how you’re finding students, how you’re partnering strategically to do that.”
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