‘Lead Your Way’

College competitors show their collaborative side

Aug 14, 2017 by

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Imagine a Mennonite college admissions counselor, for whom the national youth convention is harvest time. Thousands of her best prospects will pass through the exhibit hall where she’s set up shop. Everything is perfect. Except the competition has staked its claim right next door. And they’ve got cooler T-shirts.

There’s no getting around the competitive nature of college recruiting. But there is a way to tamp down the rivalry when five schools contend for attention in the same room for a few days every other summer: Show a united front. Join forces. Cooperate.

That’s what the Mennonite Church USA colleges and universities did at the denomination’s convention July 4-8 in Orlando, Fla. The five — Bethel, Bluffton, Eastern Mennonite, Goshen and Hesston — launched a campaign, “Lead Your Way,” in a shared booth space. Their staff people wore identical T-shirts featuring a new logo with three symbols: a dove and olive branch for faith, a globe for global perspective and a torch for high-quality academics.

The campaign turns competitors into collaborators, united by a common interest in strengthening Mennonite higher education. It highlights four strengths Mennonite colleges offer: academic excellence, affordability, successful outcomes after graduation and a Christian environment with Anabaptist values.

Announcing the “Lead Your Way” campaign, college officials admitted they haven’t always done a good job of communicating their institutions’ ability to deliver on the qualities Mennonite students and families are looking for. They believe they’ll get the word out more effectively together than separately.

Affordability is one message to herald. Private-college sticker prices are daunting, but the average financial aid package for a first-year student at an MC USA school is $25,928. No family should assume a Mennonite college is out of reach without asking how much aid their student would get.

A second message to emphasize: Anabaptist values set the Mennonite colleges apart from other Christian and secular liberal arts institutions. These principles include faith formation, service, social justice, peacemaking and community-building. For Anabaptist values to remain strong in Mennonite congregations, a substantial number of our young people need to receive a Mennonite college education.

This doesn’t happen only at the MC USA colleges. At Fresno Pacific and Tabor for the Mennonite Brethren, Rosedale Bible College for Conservative Mennonite Conference and Canadian Mennonite University and Conrad Grebel University College in Canada, options abound for diverse constituencies. Like the MC USA colleges, all enroll many non-Mennonite students, fulfilling a mission to share Anabaptist Christian values beyond our own people.

Mennonite college cooperation is a welcome trend. In 2014, Bluffton, EMU and Goshen announced a collaborative master of business administration degree program. This summer, Goshen and EMU announced a doctor of nursing practice program, the first doctoral offering among MC USA colleges.

Many colleges and universities with religious roots long ago abandoned their church affiliation and faith identity. Mennonite colleges have remained loyal to their churches and faithful to their values. That’s not an easy path, especially when the supporting denomination is small. But a church that wants to be theologically distinct needs a unique brand of higher education. We’re in this together, and it’s good to hear the colleges say this with one voice.


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