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Complicated Communication
By Mike Van Denend '78

Calvin banners - click photo to enlarge image
New banners on campus display the "Minds in the Making" tagline.

"Minds in the Making."

I was a bit surprised that Calvin's new marketing "tagline" was greeted with such intense interest and even critique as new green banners with that phrase on them were unfurled last September. Most times, slogans intended to describe the college that are coined by admissions personnel or public relations staff don't get much notice.

This one sure did. And I am glad.

"Minds in the Making" is the suggested brief description of the college suggested by Crane MetaMarketing of Atlanta and it has been embraced by those charged with introducing Calvin to diverse audiences. It is only now that the rest of the campus community and alumni and friends are carefully pondering the phrase and wondering if it really encapsulates the school's mission.

As Lynn Rosendale's piece in this edition of Spark indicates, the folks from Crane did extensive focus groups and interviews with Calvin students, faculty and staff as they prepared a marketing plan. The conclusion—"Minds in the Making"—was not something Crane staff members wanted Calvin to make itself be, but rather what the Calvin community told them the college actually does.

Communicating Calvin's unique brand of Christian higher education is not an easy task. In fact, President Gaylen Byker is currently expressing that challenge as he speaks from coast to coast to alumni, church and school audiences.

President Byker has identified the "Seven Mixed Messages of Calvin College." He notes that in many of these seven areas, Calvin is attempting to do something that virtually no other institution in North America can claim. Further, no other college that he knows of would even aspire to balance all seven of these tensions. Calvin has a unique call in Christian higher education, he states.

The seven messages are:

1. "Distinctively Christian, yet Academically Excellent:" In well-documented case studies, virtually all of the nation's best academic institutions let go of faith-tradition for the sake of academic freedom. Calvin fully integrates strong faith and rigorous education.

2. "Relatively Open Admissions, yet Brimming with Top Caliber Students:" In a seemingly impossible combination, Calvin continues to be ranked among the top U.S. News & World Report schools in its category, even though it admits almost all applicants. Even more amazing, Calvin still ranks among the highest in composite test scores of admitted students! "This combination defies logic," notes President Byker.

3. "Teaching, yet Scholarship:" Calvin faculty members are first judged for excellence in teaching; however, the output of scholarship and research from faculty members is awe-inspiring.

4. "Liberal Arts Emphasis, yet Nationally Recognized Professional Programs:" Calvin's revised and nationally noted core curriculum continues to emphasize the liberal arts, yet half of Calvin students are now enrolled in what are considered professional programs, such as teacher education, engineering, nursing and accountancy.

5. "Traditional, yet Creative/Dynamic:" In the academic world, change is typically glacial. At Calvin, while core values are maintained, constant revising of everything from the curriculum to computing to physical plant efficiencies are hallmarks of the college. The Crane staff said that Calvin operates daily in the "present participle"; there is always something being reviewed and, yes, reformed.

6. "Low Cost, yet High Quality Education:" In tuition costs, Calvin ranks near the bottom of the 25 national institutions most closely associated with the school's reputation; however, by most measures, it ranks among the top two or three in the nation in academic quality.

7. "Clear Reformed Identity, yet Openness and Diversity:" The college's Reformed Christian foundation remains as strong as ever, but at the same time a welcoming attitude toward new cultural perspectives and a willingness to learn from other traditions is clearly evident.

In the light of these seven striking "mixed messages," how does one describe Calvin in one phrase? Not so easy, is it? Some of us on campus think the Crane folks did the best job anyone could do. A marketing "tagline" will never say everything, nor does it take the place of Calvin's motto—"My Heart I Offer to You, Lord, Promptly and Sincerely"—or the famous heart-in-hand logo.

"Minds in the Making" intends to introduce a new Christian audience to Calvin, wrapping up the seven messages and 126 years of faith-and-learning into a phrase that will cause families to take a careful look at this place.

We're confident that if they do, this complicated place will be a comfortable fit.

Minds in the Making
An explanation of the discussions behind this new marketing concept, including copies of Crane's reports.

Calvin's rankings
U.S. News & World Report and other college guides

Letters to the editor
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