Church giving to Mennonite colleges up
Matching tuition grant support rises while annual fund donations are down.by June Galle Krehbiel
When Sarah Pohl left home last fall for her first year at Bethel College in North Newton, Kan., she took along well wishes from her home congregation.
She took a financial gift, too. Like the three others from her church who are attending Mennonite colleges and universities this year, Sarah received generous financial support from a church family that believes in Mennonite higher education.
Last year alone, Sarah’s 160-member congregation, First Mennonite Church of Christian in Moundridge, Kan., paid out $14,750 to Mennonite colleges/universities for tuition grants for its own students.
The church also gave $3,800 in offerings to two of Mennonite Church USA’s undergraduate institutions. Similar giving stretches back to 1975, when the church first offered tuition grants to its students attending Bethel College.
Since then it has supported about 40 First Mennonite students at four of the five colleges/ universities.
“Churches are giving a lot to their students so they can go to Mennonite colleges, and for that we are most grateful,” says Carlos Romero, Mennonite Education Agency executive director.
“We say thank you for their support, not only in sending students but in giving offerings to the colleges.”
Last year, total giving from Mennonite Church USA churches to Bethel College, Bluffton (Ohio) University, Goshen (Ind.) College, Hesston (Kan.) College and Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., equaled $3.45 million.
This is up 14 percent from 10 years ago. Total giving of congregations to colleges/universities was $3.03 million in 1999.
In the same time, however, church giving to operational funds of the five Mennonite colleges /universities has dropped nearly 52 percent.
In 1999, congregational giving to annual funds at the five institutions came in at $1.45 million. Last year annual fund contributions totaled only $956,420.
While eager to help their own students, some Mennonite Church USA congregations have reduced their offerings to the institutions’ operational budgets.
“What a challenge this has created for our Mennonite colleges and universities!” Romero says. “We need congregations to assess their total giving to Mennonite education.”
The trend mimics giving in other settings.
“It’s a general pattern in giving that we see outside the church as well. People like to connect a face with where their money is going,” Romero says, “They like to give to designated projects. When that happens continually in our colleges, they can be put in a serious bind.
“Perhaps unknowingly, our churches have been excusing themselves from yearly giving to the annual funds at the colleges/universities,” Romero says. “Earlier generations seemed to have a higher sense of loyalty to the institutions.”
Romero gives this example: One year your church has three students at Mennonite Church USA colleges/universities. The church gives each a $2,000 tuition grant for a total of $6,000.
Suddenly the three students graduate, and the next year your church has no students at any of the institutions. In the habit of supporting the colleges/universities through student grants, your church zeroes out the tuition grant for that year.
So suddenly there is no money going from your church to the institutions for their annual funds, which ironically have a portion allocated to the congregational Matching Grant Program.
A common Matching Grant Program is followed by each Mennonite Church USA college/university. It matches the first $1,000 of congregational student aid dollar-for-dollar.
Beyond $1,000 from the congregation, the colleges and universities provide $1 of matching aid for every $4 provided, up to full tuition.
Last year 1,504 students at the five colleges/universities were from Mennonite Church USA churches.
Many received some amount of matching grant from their congregations.
As the colleges/universities begin their new fiscal year in July and look toward the fall semester, Romero calls on Mennonite Church USA congregations to evaluate their giving patterns.
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Mennonite higher education facts:
• During the 2008-2009 school year, the five Mennonite colleges and universities had 3,328 Mennonite students. This number includes 89 racial-ethnic Mennonite students.
• In the last six years, enrollment of Mennonite students at higher education institutions has held steady.
• There are more than 75 programs of study at the colleges and universities.