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Brand Chemistry: Christian College Brands

Canada’s most trusted higher ed monitor and futurist, Ken Steele, explores Christian college (and religiously-affiliated university college) brand positions and reputational challenges. in Canada, religious affiliation is most intense in Quebec and the Atlantic provinces. There are 34 member institutions in Christian Higher Ed Canada. Small religious colleges do well on CUSC and Maclean’s surveys, but also have some negative PR to contend with. Prairie Bible Institute faced sexual abuse allegations, Trinity western University had “chronic and potentially fatal” budget challenges, Redeemer University College had a controversial scholarship program, StFX’s chancellor was embroiled in a child porn scandal, and the evangelical position against homosexuality drew protests against Crandall University and the Trinity Western Law School. The CAUT has threatened most Christian colleges with censure for their faculty faith tests. Ontario university applicants are largely indifferent to religion when choosing a university, but almost a quarter feel strongly negative about it. So it’s not surprising to see Christian colleges and universities downplaying religion in their new branding efforts.

Atlantic Baptist College changed its name to Crandall University in 2008 to overcome “perceptual obstacles.” Bethany Bible College changed its name to Kingswood University in 2012, and the new logo doesn’t suggest religion at all. Brescia University College replaced a more prominent cross with an icon that suggests a dove, a letter B, or a bible and flame. Calgary’s Nazarene and Alliance University Colleges merged to become Ambrose University in 2007. Edmonton’s Concordia University College adopted a new logo in 2010 that features architecture and flowing water. Likewise Université de Saint-Boniface adopted a new logo in 2012 featuring its cupola and flowing wheat fields. The three universities named for Jesus, University of King’s College (Halifax), King’s University College (London ON), and King’s University (Edmonton), have logos that understate religion. None faced a brand backlash like the one at King’s College London in December 2014 – a £300,000 rebranding study concluded that the word “College” had to go, but 12,000 outraged students, a class-action lawsuit, and an outspoken member of parliament derailed the rebrand entirely.

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