Mennonite schools collaborate on MBA program
By Melodie M. Davis
Long before the pandemic forced learning to go online, several Mennonite universities and colleges pooled their resources to offer a mostly virtual graduate business degree.
The collaborative Master of Business Administration degree program includes four schools. Ohio’s Bluffton University, Manitoba’s Canadian Mennonite University (CMU), Virginia’s Eastern Mennonite University, and Indiana’s Goshen College partner in the effort.
These schools offer undergraduate business degree programs with a variety of specializations. Students
who complete other undergraduate degree programs can go on to earn a master’s in business — often while holding down fulltime jobs. Andrew Miller, a faculty member at Eastern Mennonite, was installed last fall as director of the program.
The idea for doing something cooperatively was nurtured at MEDA’s annual convention, says former program director George Lehman. Various business department professors and staff began discussing the idea of collaborating to offer an MBA in the early 2000s.
There was a great deal of interest kindled each year, but initially, the idea never took off.
Economic concerns bogged folks down: weren’t Mennonite schools already competing for students? Which school would get to “claim” the students? How would revenue from the program be divided?
In the fall of 2012, businessman Jim Smucker (then of eastern Pennsylvania), took a sabbatical. He moved to Harrisonburg to work on making the collaborative dream a reality — a nine-month gestation. “Jim had the gifts to break the stalemates and labored through meetings to iron out a schedule to help the idea come to life,” Lehman said.
Michelle Horning leads Goshen College’s collaborative MBA efforts. “If we tried to have a successful MBA program as individual schools, we wouldn’t have the expertise represented that we currently have in the bigger program,” she said.
Horning had seen that schools were already maxed out on teaching loads for professors. “It is hard to imagine how we could have added an MBA on our own and made it financially.”
As the schools began talking about how to pool the resources of the various Mennonite schools, they asked themselves big questions: “Do we have a shared vision? Does the world really need another MBA program?” Horning recalls.
They agreed if they launched it they wanted a rigorous program, but “something a little different.” The collaborators decided to focus on “the common good.”
Craig Martin, who chairs CMU’s Redekop School of Business, says the cooperative focuses on people, profits, and planet — not just the bottom line. “We stress: don’t burn out your people, treat God’s creation well, and still try to be profitable,” he said.
CMU handles all the registration of students who are not from North America. Immigration laws are more liberal in Canada and make enrollment possible for them. Participants do not have to be Christian and have included those who are atheist, Buddhist, Muslim, and other faiths. “Students need to be sympathetic to the underlying basic beliefs of our program to treat people fairly, preserve the planet, and appreciate the fundamental goal of being profitable,” he said.
People who want to work on New York’s Wall Street or Toronto’s Bay Street financial district may wish to choose
a different school’s program, he said. “But there is a set of students out there looking for a ‘common good’ orientation for their advanced business degree.”
Before the pandemic, the program featured an especially strong draw for participants. There was a nine-day international component where cohorts of students travelled to learn about businesses in a culture other than their own. About 25 percent of students participate from countries other than the U.S. and Canada.
Martin grew up in a home with “serial entrepreneur” parents. He started working at age six.
“I did chores around the store — which is not that different from the average farm kid working from a young age.”
Jonathan Andreas is the Bluffton University business chair and became director of the MBA program at Bluffton in January 2021. He teaches a core economic class, Managerial Economics. He does something that is a little “weird,” using the Free Market Fundamentalism textbook by (award-winning free market economist) Milton Friedman (and others).
The book emphasizes that “the moral responsibility of a business is profit for shareholders,” says Andreas. At first glance this seems to contradict the three goals of the collaborative MBA program. Students sometimes ask why he uses that textbook.
“I think it is useful to critique free market fundamentalism,” Andreas says. “Plus, the book looks at the fundamentals, which actually helps in teaching economics.”
“The work world has become more and more managed, and filled with those who believe profit is everything,” he said. “Managers who only care about the me and not the we are being selfish.” The collaborative MBA program,
with its church affiliation, attracts people who look for a bigger purpose.
Students are buying that bigger purpose, and the convenience. Sara Alvarez Waugh finished her MBA in April 2021 through Goshen College. Not having to move to a new town or drive 45 minutes each way to South Bend for her classes made the program attractive for her.
“Values and price also factored in,” she said. “I knew this program would emphasize values I shared and expected it would be a high-quality education.”
She also appreciated the online international experience part of the program. “The teachers were able to facilitate good class discussions,” she said.
“The program helped develop my sense of leadership and will open wider opportunities for my future.”
Ololade Tunji-Abimbola is a student from Lagos, Nigeria, where she worked as a senior media manager at an advertising agency. “I was working full time and felt I was not at my best” in that competitive atmosphere.”
What she likes most about the collaborative MBA program is “the emphasis on the common good.”
As a Christian, Tunji-Abimbola says the program and interaction with classmates in her cohort “made me feel like I am not alone in the struggle to find a balance in the workplace.”
She hopes that in the future, the scope of the classes and teaching materials will include more case studies from Africa. “Most of the case studies were focused on North America, Europe, and Asia.”
Bluffton’s Andreas is delighted with the number of international students enrolled in the program.
Discussions are enlarged with students from other countries, he said. “They don’t have the tribalism that is sometimes present in North America and offer other perspectives.”