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Change in the Pandemic: Katie Interviews Indiana Wesleyan University’s Vice President of Innovation & Partnerships, Andy Miller

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Today, Katie interviews Andy Miller, Indiana Wesleyan University’s Vice President of Innovation & Partnerships. Katie and Andy talk about changes seen during this pandemic and how they have been responding to the cultural shifts brought on in today’s society.

 

 

Transcript:

Speaker 1:

Welcome to the Church Communications Podcast. We want to help you become a church communications expert. We understand it can be a challenging and ever-changing role because we’ve worked in the church too, which is why we built a community with over 25,000 church leaders that are ready to support and cheer you on.

Your hosts for the show are Katie Allred and Kenny Jahng, who want to help equip you to reach more of your congregation and community. This is the place where we’ll talk shop with fellow practitioners and professionals about what’s working, what’s not, and what’s next. Are you ready? Let’s get started.

Katie Allred:

Welcome to the Church Communications Podcast. I’m Katie Allred. Today, I am so excited because I’m joined by a special guest, the Vice President of Innovation and Partnerships at Indiana Wesleyan University, Andy Miller. And so, I’m so glad to have you on the show today, Andy.

Andy Miller:

Thank you, Katie. It’s really a pleasure to be here with you.

Katie Allred:

Yeah. So excited to have you. I know we’ve got quite a bit of ground to cover today, but why don’t you tell the people a little bit about who you are, where you’re at, what Indian Wesleyan University’s up to?

Andy Miller:

Yeah. Thanks for that. And thanks for the invite to be here today. My name is, again, Andy Miller, and I work at Indiana Wesleyan University. We’re a Christian university, just a little over 100 years old, celebrated that last year in 2020, pandemic year, if you will. And we are a primarily adult learning and residential campus. We have a great residential campus with about 2,700 students. And then we serve about 8,000 to 9,000 students in our adult learning program. We also have a seminary and a lot of other kind of really cool initiatives.

Andy Miller:

And my role there is really two things. One, I ensure that our innovation engine as a university is still running and not gunked up in any way. And I also work on external partnerships, partnerships with churches and nonprofits and a lot of other kinds of different groups. And really enjoy that work. And it gives me a great chance to connect with a lot of different sorts of organizations.

Katie Allred:

Yeah, that’s awesome. I don’t know if everybody in my audience even knows that I’m a professor full-time at a Christian university, myself at the University of Mobile. So it’s always nice to meet somebody else in academia and in the very small and crazy world of Christian higher education.

Andy Miller:

Right. Yes.

Katie Allred:

Yeah. So on that note, my first question for you is what’s happening in higher education as a result of the pandemic. I know that churches have changed wildly because of the pandemic. And I know too, having experienced it myself, that higher education has changed as a result. So I want you to give us some insight.

Andy Miller:

Yeah, it’s crazy. I mean, I have been in higher education long enough to see the upswings and the downswings that we’ve seen over the last 20 years. And it’s been fascinating to watch what has occurred in the last really now 12 months since the pandemic began. And it’s been shocking in some ways, but also very illuminating of the challenges. And I’ll say this, any institution that says they have it figured out does not. They’re still struggling to figure out, well, how do we deliver education and serve our constituents in a way that makes sense and how do we even navigate this? And we see that every day, financially institutions are struggling. Their students are struggling.

Andy Miller:

And so, as a university, we’re just trying to say, well, how do we navigate this season and recognize that this season is not one that’s going to come and go away, but it’s probably going to reshape us for the future I would say, Katie, because higher education has not generally had to change this quickly-

Katie Allred:

Right.

Andy Miller:

… and brought to the forefront, the need to change and innovate and to think differently about what we do every day.

Katie Allred:

For sure. So how do you think that change affects churches?

Andy Miller:

Well, I think churches are very much dealing with the same factors that universities are.

Katie Allred:

For sure.

Andy Miller:

Universities like IWU have a face, a in-person kind of physical activity that takes place on a weekly basis. And we feel the very same pressures as a church and the universities look very similar. And what I would say is that many times the church is going to feel the very same pressures a little earlier than a university, but they’re about the same. And so things like physical presence on the weekend service is something that feels very similar to what we’ve had to do in university life, where we had to go online, at the same time, churches had to go online. And it’s been fascinating to see how churches have responded and universities. And it looks very similar to be honest with you, Katie.

Katie Allred:

Yeah, no, I completely agree. I think that churches have had to pivot. I’ve always thought that church and college actually were very similar in a lot of ways. Like you decide on what college you’re going to go to, and then you devote four years to it usually. But then in a church, the stakes are even higher, right? Like you are probably devoting a certain amount of time, however long you decide to live in this community probably, to this church. And then the guess, like figuring out the visitor or whatever, ratio of getting somebody recruited, right, to come to your church, but also to come to your college. I feel like it’s very similar in a way, and then we’re discipling or training or teaching. I don’t know. I’ve found a lot of correlations along the way too. So how do you think, how are you, Indiana Wesleyan University responding to the changes that are happening due to the pandemic?

Andy Miller:

Yeah, we’re trying to ask the question, how do we respond to the cultural shifts that are taking place in society in a way that makes sense, both for us as a university, but really for the constituents that we serve, our students, our community partners and say, how do we in a meaningful way come alongside you? And we were doing that well before the pandemic even arrived because we were seeing pressure points in our business model where students were coming to us in less frequency than they were in previous generations. They talk about it as the demographic cliff, right, where there’s less people graduating high school who are ready for college than there were in previous generations. That was already occurring, particularly in the Midwest where we have seen that more pronounced.

Andy Miller:

And so as a university we’ve said to ourselves, how do we innovate into the future and create the next-generation higher education experience that is going to lead to student success, but also ensure the sustainability of us as a university? And there’s a lot of juggling and there’s a lot of things going on and there’s all these words like disruption and change. And there’s a lot of truth to all that, but at the very core of it, we’re trying to ask that question. And one of those initiatives that really responds to that is what we call the Bridge Initiative. And it’s designed to come alongside the local church as well as nonprofits and create educational opportunities. Because what we know is the price of higher education has gone up and it’s exceeding. Now we see that student loan debt has exceeded consumer debt in the form of credit cards and even home. And there is also this really damaging kind of notion of how much can we really charge people for education, particularly people who are going into the ministry, right?

Katie Allred:

Yeah.

Andy Miller:

So we’re trying to respond to that. Also respond to the realities that people are just staying local.

Katie Allred:

Right.

Andy Miller:

The average driving distance to college these days is 50 miles.

Katie Allred:

Wow.

Andy Miller:

In my generation it was 200.

Katie Allred:

Yeah.

Andy Miller:

So it’s like, how do we serve a constituency or a student that just doesn’t travel that far-

Katie Allred:

Right.

Andy Miller:

… doesn’t want to spend as much money and really wants something that’s practical.

Katie Allred:

Right.

Andy Miller:

And so that’s what the Bridge Initiative tries to address.

Katie Allred:

Yeah. Can you just give me maybe a brief background in Indiana Wesleyan University and a little bit more information about the Bridge Program specifically?

Andy Miller:

Yeah. Yeah, we’re, again, a 100-year institution. We have been committed in many ways to the adult learning market. We were an early pioneer in that. 1985, Indiana Wesleyan University was called Marion College and we were on the brink of closure. It was a really dark period in our history. And it’s just what many smaller private Christian institutions were dealing with.

Katie Allred:

Yeah.

Andy Miller:

And the idea of adult higher education really became the forefront. And with a number of partners, we grew rapidly between 1985 and 2010, and really grew a product that delivered a lot of education to a lot of adults to meet their specific needs. And we really pioneered the way in many ways for the nation. And today there’s a lot of those kinds of organizations providing adult higher education. So what we’ve tried to do is say, okay, in the way that some of these larger mega universities are not serving the church, how might we do that in a meaningful and productive way that comes alongside an organization and makes a difference for them by providing accessible, affordable, and flexible educational pathways for their students?

Katie Allred:

Okay, great. So are there any specific ministry programs you wanted to mention that go through the Bridge Initiative?

Andy Miller:

Yeah, the Bridge Initiative provides access to up to 30 degree programs ranging from business to social work, criminal justice, communication. And then also, we allow for the opportunity to earn ministry degrees. We have an Associate of Science in Christian Ministry Leadership, as well as a BS degree or a Bachelor of Science in Christian Ministry Leadership, as well as opportunities after that point to go on to our seminary as well.

Andy Miller:

But we really want to say to the church, you have individuals in your community who are called to the local church. And so we have programs for them as well as an assortment of other degrees that can really serve someone from any spectrum, who’s saying, “Hey, I want to be a social worker, but do my ministry in the marketplace.” And so we have the ability to serve both. But certainly for the audience that you have today, for those who are local church ministry, we can serve them well with this Ministry Leadership program.

Katie Allred:

So you’re actually a sponsor and a part of [Sheely’s 00:09:53] Church, just this past couple of weeks ago. And so thank you so much for being a part of Sheely’s Church. It’s such a special, I don’t know, such a special event for me personally. And so we really appreciate your partnership in that. So could you maybe tell us a little bit more about how female church leaders might benefit from the Bridge Initiative?

Andy Miller:

Yeah, great question. As a university or even the denomination that we support or are under, the Wesleyan Church has been really committed to women’s leadership for years. We have had our superintendent be a female leader and Joanne Lyons, who I believe was a part of your conference this last week. As well as our seminary president is a female leader. It’s deeply embedded to our culture and ethos, and we genuinely seek ways to help female leaders to rise to the occasion. And what we have provided is really a program that serves all kinds of students, because female leaders may need that mentor. They may need an environment that allows them to get that hands-on experience while doing their education at the same time. So we’ve really designed it for the person to have that mentorship and have that experiential learning or hands-on training in a way that’s going to allow them to be successful in the longterm.

Katie Allred:

So they are bachelor degrees, master’s degrees or they’re doctoral degrees? What kind of programs are offered?

Andy Miller:

Yeah. So as a university, we offer a number of options through the Bridge Initiative, specifically. There’s associate and bachelor’s level. We also have some certificates if you’re just looking for an early entry way into education, around ministry, as well as other disciplines. And then we have an assortment of graduate programs from the MBA all the way over to a master’s in communication and also ministry. And then our seminary offers all the way up to a DMan. And so we can serve basically anybody wherever they are at in their life in terms of the educational journey.

Katie Allred:

Great. Fantastic. I think the church leaders who are listening might wonder what type of size church would benefit this program specifically.

Andy Miller:

Yeah. So we’ll work with a lot of different sizes of churches, churches that have a passion for raising up the next-generation of leaders, who want to provide community and opportunity for hands-on ministry, that’s really the church, right? It could be a church of 800, it could be a church of 8,000. It could be a church that is really 100, but as committed to education and to providing options for their community. And we see all kinds of churches, Katie. We have some that are saying, “Hey, we’re here to raise up the next-generation of church pastors.” We also have some that are like, “Hey, we are a community hub where we want to provide meaningful opportunities for people, regardless of what they want to do in life. But we believe ministry is more universal.” And so it really depends upon the culture and the passion of that local church. And we think we can serve a lot of different varieties of churches in that way.

Katie Allred:

Okay. So you could serve a lot of different kinds of churches, but what makes IWU… Did I say that correctly, IWU?

Andy Miller:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Katie Allred:

What makes the programs at IWU through the Bridge Initiative unique in comparison to other programs? Because I know I could go to a lot of different Christian universities and get a degree, right?

Andy Miller:

Yeah. A couple of things. The program itself is designed. It’s $7,000 a year to get [crosstalk 00:13:12].

Katie Allred:

Oh, wow.

Andy Miller:

I mean, it’s dramatically-

Katie Allred:

[crosstalk 00:13:14]. Really good.

Andy Miller:

Yeah. We’re really trying to address the affordability question, right? That’s the first and foremost thing. The other thing that is really unique about it, it’s practical. Students can get hands-on practical training that leads to academic credit by doing that in the church. And the other big thing is that we really empower the church to be its own agent of education, right? They can really change lives by creating this local community.

Andy Miller:

Beyond that, there’s a lot of other institutions doing very similar work. The big difference between us and them is that we have been around for a long time. We’ve been doing this type of education for almost 30 years. We have many different programs. Some institutions will really limit the number of programs they offer. We have almost 40 that we can offer through this modality. And the other big difference is, we are a really financially healthy institution. Despite the pandemic, we’re in a very good position as a university, which means that students and our partners can feel good about working with us. And we know what we’re doing. We’re successful at that. And we believe that we can serve the church market in a way that is meaningful for them and their students.

Katie Allred:

That’s awesome. Okay. So the final question really is, do you have anything else you would like to share with us?

Andy Miller:

No. We just really want to share with your community that what you’re doing is very important. MarCom and the Communications and the churches is really what I think is the glue that holds it all together. And we believe that when that is done successfully, it can work well. And so if any of your audience is looking for education for themselves personally, or for their communities, and it’s looking for ways to raise up those next-gen leaders, then this is a great place to start and we’d love to talk to them.

Katie Allred:

Love that. Okay. So if somebody wanted to connect with you or they wanted to connect with Indian Wesleyan University, where would they go?

Andy Miller:

Yeah. The best place is our website, iwubridge.com/churches. But if you just went to the top domain, you would see a list of different options and ways to get ahold of us. And we’ll be quick to get back to you and just share more about our initiatives.

Katie Allred:

Okay. So iwubridge.com.

Andy Miller:

That’s right.

Katie Allred:

Perfect. All right. Well, thank you so much, Andy. I appreciate you coming on the show today and hanging out with us. And if anybody has any questions, please feel free to reach out to Andy or to go to iwubridge.com and learn more about their programs. Thank you so much for partnering with us here at Sheely’s Church. It was a fantastic event.I think our final numbers have shown about 7,250, 7,250 people came to Sheely’s Church, which was just a phenomenal event. I mean, more than twice, like 60% increase from last year. So God is really good and really has been blessing the ministry. So thank you for being a partner.

Andy Miller:

Awesome. Well, thank you for the invitation. We really appreciate it.

Speaker 1:

Thanks for listening to the Church Communications Podcast with Katie Allred and Kenny Jahng. If you liked our show today and want to learn more, you can join our Facebook group with over 25,000 church leaders. Simply search for Church Communications on Facebook. And if you liked today’s episode, please consider subscribing and leaving us a review. It’s the most impactful way you can help us reach more church leaders and equip them to become better communicators for the church. And finally, don’t forget to check out our website at churchcommunications.com. Thanks for listening.

 

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