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An Identity No Longer in Search of a Market

June 15, 2011

This is the second post in a series on the relationship of brand, branding, and institutional identity. Refer to the first post for a definition of the terms.

This week, Bethany University closed its doors for good. No matter how many degrees of separation there are between Bethany and each of us, there’s a sense of sadness anytime a college goes out of business. What if it was your alma mater?

Founded in 1919, Bethany began as Glad Tidings Bible Institute in San Francisco, eventually changing its name to Bethany Bible College and moving to a beautiful hillside campus in Santa Cruz, California in 1950. Bethany had a wonderful heritage. For most of its existence, its brand and identity were both tied to the preparation of men and women for Christian ministry and world missions. A brand, identity, and market of another era.

It’s a sobering reminder that an institution’s identity needs a market. As much as marketing has been historically maligned in higher education, the reminders continue that market dynamics are constant and are what sustain or doom a college or  university. As complicated and expensive as it gets, marketing’s role is simply to leverage those market dynamics in order to sustain the university’s identity and mission.

For Bethany University, the last two decades were very rough financially. As the bible college market further evaporated, Bethany made attempts at expanding its identity to include professional studies and non-traditional education. It granted itself university status. But whether through ill-advised management or lack of resources, the college was unable to brand itself beyond its identity as a bible college. It’s another point to note–that an institution’s brand is tied to its institutional identity. And if that identity is historic, donors are not likely to support a new identity, and there won’t be a brand reputation from which to build new market niches. 

Rumors would circulate from time to time that there was a big donor coming to the rescue, or that the campus was being sold and a move to Sacramento would both save and reinvent the college. But as a patient with a terminal illness–in this case huge debt and the lack of a market–its condition just worsened. In the end, the news felt the same way. The patient had finally passed away.

As the condolences pour in, alumni–those who embody the identity of Bethany–are using Facebook to find community as they deal with the realization that there will no longer be a Bethany University. No matter your connection or faith, I’d encourage you to see what they are saying. Note how alumni remember their experiences and the identity of the college they attended. The comments remind us all of what the business of higher education is all about. Here are only a few…

My alma mater closes its doors. Mistakes? Too many to cite. But the memories for me remain significant.


My heart is very sad today with taking in the reality that Bethany will be closing. As everybody has continued to express…so many memories, so many treasured relationships, and so many life impacting experiences. Bethany will always hold a treasured place in my heart and I am so thankful for my years at Bethany…..words just seem so inadequate for such a time as this!!


One of our professors, Bro. Tinsman once said, “you will more than likely forget most of what I am teaching you, what you will take away from here are friends, those you won’t forget.” I made some good friendships at Bethany, many which have lasted over 45 years. I was privileged to go to Bethany during the wild transition from the 60s to the 70s. We must have given our teachers some pretty big headaches with our long hair and music and our questioning of everything. They gave us foundations to stand on during those shaky times and more than that taught us to go out and to change the world. Thank you Bethany!


I have been wanting to post something here for a while since the news from yesterday. But each time i try to write something i become speechless…BU changed my life, my 4 years there as a student were some of the hardest yet best years of my life. I went through things that I know i wouldn’t have survived if it wasnt for BU and my friends, teammates and the faculty/staff. I will forever hold dear the memories that were made at BU and the people that I met and the forever friends that were made.


I am in a small village in Nepal this morning after completing a 40 plus mile journey on foot through the Himalayas ministering the gospel in village after village, i found a small internet cafe here in Porkhara, Nepal and have been reading this thread, Bethany changed the course of my life … or should i say the relationships I cultivated at Bethany, I am very heartbroken … However, God is in control and already knows the next step … I will choose to trust Him while cherishing that season of my life … I’m also glad I have my old basketball jersey #44 safe in my bottom drawer at home …. A Bruin for life!


Thank you Bethany for introducing me to my beautiful wife Wendy, for preparing me for what I’m doing now, for the life-long relationships that have been built, and for the incredible memories and experiences that I have the privilege of sharing with others. So incredibly sad to know you’re closing the doors. Praying for a resurrection…but if not…still very thankful for an unforgettable season!

Previously in this series on brand, branding, and institutional identity:

Part One: The Roles of Brand, Branding, and Identity 

Next in the series:

Part Three: Lead with Brand, Not Identity






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