ANGOLA, Indiana (Mennonite Education Agency) — The Mennonite Higher Education Association (MHEA) had its official launch at the first in-person gathering on September 15-17, 2018 in Angola, Indiana. A key element of this meeting was the group’s selection of Rebecca Stoltzfus, president of Goshen College, to provide leadership for MHEA as the new chair. MHEA will operate as a federation of institutions where the chair position will serve a one-year term with possibility of renewal.

The presidents of six higher education institutions participated in the gathering: Sara Wenger Shenk, Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary; Jon Gering, Bethel College; Jane Wood, Bluffton University; Susan Schultz Huxman, Eastern Mennonite University; Joseph Manickam, Hesston College; and Stoltzfus, as well as the executive director of Mennonite Education Association (MEA), Carlos Romero. Dick Thomas, chair of the MHEA Beta version, was also part of the meetings.

“Our first meeting together as MHEA was historic in several ways,” said Rebecca Stoltzfus, noting that five of the six presidents are relatively new to their positions. “We needed to learn to know one another, and I left with a great respect and appreciation for the talent, commitment and perspectives of these leaders.”

At the meetings, significant time went into storytelling and relationship-building, and each president shared stories about how their institutions connect to their shared vision of Mennonite education and about what bridges can be built looking toward the future.

“The presidents’ stories were inspiring and powerful in understanding at a deep level how our schools are implementing the vision of the church for Mennonite higher education,” said Romero.

“We used worship and storytelling as means to understand each other and our work,” said Stoltzfus. “Our colleges, universities and seminaries are places that nurture and transmit the expressions of our faith in challenging times — not by being rigid and unyielding, but with resiliency and openness to the transformative work of the Spirit.”

The meetings included reviewing the purposes of MHEA and holding conversations based around affordability and accessibility, and faith and human formation. Romero also introduced the upcoming MEA strategic planning process.

In addition, having identified 25 collaborations that already happen between the schools, the group determined priorities for continued collaboration through academic programming and support staffing. As one example, three of the MHEA schools currently participate in offering a collaborative MBA program​.

“Our priorities for our first one to two years will be to explore partnerships that can grow and sustain our excellent academic programs, or can achieve economies of scale in the administrative aspects of our work,” said Stoltzfus. “We also seek to create new structures and practices to support the relationship of our institutions to MC USA.”

The schools, MC USA and MEA plan to maintain a close and intentional relationship through several avenues including regular communication, involvement in boards and presidential search committees and a shared Mennonite/Anabaptist foundation.

The next in-person meeting is planned for January 2019. Thomas, who helped with the process of launching the MHEA, ended his temporary role at these meetings.

“After being involved in this process, it was really gratifying to be at this meeting and see the deep sense of ownership by MHEA presidents for the vision of the new organization,” said Thomas.

“It is exciting to be in a place where we are looking forward, dreaming together, thinking of the possibilities and finding ways to strengthen the individual institutions and the overall mission of Mennonite education,” said Romero. “Our institutions are a significant part of our missional endeavor as MC USA.”

The process of establishing MHEA began in March 2017 at an MEA meeting in Jacksonville, Florida where representatives of the Mennonite colleges, MEA and MC USA discussed moving forward with a new structure to address the changing state of Mennonite higher education. This resulted in a task force that began its work in July 2017 and distributed a proposal for feedback. A revised and final proposal of the task force was created in January 2018, and the MHEA Beta version began on February 1, 2018. The new MHEA organization was officially launched at the September 2018 meeting with six schools participating. ​

Contributed by Mennonite Church USA/MEA Staff  –  10/1/2018