Growing in Grace with our United Methodist Colleges

  • Did you know that there are 117 United Methodist-related colleges and universities in the United States?
  • Did you know that there are thirteen United Methodist-related seminaries in the United States as well as other non-United Methodist approved seminaries?
  • Did you know that there are more than one thousand United Methodist-related colleges and universities around the world?

Education and the development of leaders played a critical role from the very beginning of the Methodist movement in 18th century England. John Wesley believed education to be a priority for all ages and wrote manuals and tracts for children. He also emphasized the importance of Christian education and spiritual development in the home. The growth of the Sunday school movement in America was largely due to circuit riding Methodist preachers, and by 1844, Methodism was the largest denomination in the United States.

John Wesley also stressed lifelong learning, faith development, and mutual accountability through class meetings, bands, and societies. “It cannot be that the people should grow in grace unless they give themselves to reading. A reading people will always be a knowing people.” (John Wesley)

Last week, our cabinet spent the afternoon with the presidents of the four United Methodist-related colleges and universities in Iowa: Jonathan Brand from Cornell College; Christine Plunkett from Iowa Wesleyan University; John Reynders from Morningside College; and Jay Simmons from Simpson College. Our purpose was to get to know each other better; dialogue around the challenges of higher education today; discuss the ramifications of the 2019 General Conference decisions around human sexuality for both the church and academy; and brainstorm ways in which we can be mutually supportive of each other.

All four colleges are proud of their United Methodist roots and connections. At the same time, many students, faculty, donors, and administrators of our colleges were discouraged by the outcome of the 2019 General Conference because each college has statements around inclusivity a diversity is a core value. The colleges are now waiting to see what happens at the 2020 General Conference before responding.

  • Cornell College values diversity and strives to create a welcoming community in which all individuals are respected and included. We support respectful and meaningful inquiry across actual or perceived differences.”
  • Morningside College believes in and promotes non-discrimination. It is our policy and practice to promote equal opportunities without regard to age, sex, religion, creed, race, color, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, genetic information, or national origin.”
  • Simpson College is committed to a diverse and inclusive, culturally enriched campus community with many different identities, nationalities, sexual orientations, ethnicities, races, physical and mental abilities, and beliefs. We embrace the fact that diversity improves and enhances the quality of our academic experiences and campus life.”
  • “Energized and guided by historic memory, Iowa Wesleyan University respects individuality within the context of a community with a common moral purpose, a community that welcomes persons of diverse backgrounds and worldviews. In so recognizing both immediate and global dimensions of civic membership, individual aspirations are tied to the aspirations of all, echoing John Wesley’s declaration ‘The world is my parish.’”

Current challenges faced by our United Methodist colleges in Iowa:

  • Demographic changes – There are fewer 18-year-olds in Iowa than there were 25 years ago, which means there is a smaller pool of potential students.
  • Lack of ethnic representation – Diversity is a high priority and is increasing. There is also a growing Hispanic and Asian population in Iowa. At the same time, ethnic students have not historically attended small liberal arts colleges.
  • Enrollment – Like many, if not most, small liberal arts colleges, our UM-related colleges in Iowa struggle to maintain enrollment goals. Every student matters, and even with generous financial aid, the cost of attending a liberal arts college is more than the large flagship universities.
  • Finances – Tuition alone cannot support our colleges. They depend on the generosity of donors to offer the highest caliber of education.

Strengths of our UM colleges:

  • Liberal arts colleges enroll more first-generation students than large universities. A first-generation student is the first one in their family to ever attend college. A smaller campus ensures that students receive more direct and personal assistance.
  • Small colleges are also the drivers of social mobility. Social mobility refers to when individuals go up or down the social ladder. In the context of higher education, social mobility is usually about children becoming better off than their parents.
  • There are many students who cannot succeed at big universities and thrive in a smaller setting where there is more individual attention. I know that I would never have survived in a big university. I would have been totally lost! The smaller learning environment that I had as an undergraduate student at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio enabled me to better adjust to college.

Our United Methodist institutions of higher learning are monitored by the University Senate, which is an elected body of peer professionals who both support and evaluate our UM colleges and universities. They also ensure that every one of our institutions maintains appropriate academic accreditation.

I’d like to share one unique aspect of each of our four colleges and urge you to peruse the websites of our colleges to get a bigger picture of the excellent education that is provided.

Iowa Wesleyan University was founded in 1842 and is one of the oldest four-year higher education institutions west of the Mississippi River. One of IWU’s graduates is Dr. Peggy Whitson ‘81, a NASA astronaut who has twice served as station commander for the International Space Station and holds several NASA records.

Over the past three years, Morningside graduates have had a job and graduate school placement rate of 99%. Since 1894, the college has been helping students become flexible, confident thinkers in an increasingly fast-paced world. Morningside College was also recently named among the national finalists for The American Prize in Opera Performance (College/University Division) for its production of “Dido and Aeneas.” Morningside is the only private liberal arts college to receive this designation for the 2018-19 season.

Cornell College was the first college west of the Mississippi to grant women the same rights and privileges as men, and, in 1858, to award a degree to a woman. In 1978, Cornell faculty adopted the One Course at A Time curriculum, transforming the way teaching and learning happen at Cornell. Cornell’s innovative education was recognized with the 1996 publication of Loren Pope’s Colleges That Change Lives and continues to be recognized with each new edition.

One of Simpson College’s most famous students is George Washington Carver, who was an American agricultural scientist and inventor. Carver was a professor at Tuskegee Institute and pioneered the promotion of alternative crops to cotton and methods to prevent soil depletion. After Carver was refused admission to a college because he was black, he enrolled in Simpson College in 1890, where he studied art and piano for a year. Every spring, classes are cancelled at Simpson so that students can participate in service projects around the community.

“I continue to dream and pray about a revival of holiness in our day that moves forth in mission and creates authentic community in which each person can be unleashed through the empowerment of the Spirit to fulfill God’s creation intentions.” –John Wesley

Thank be to God for the thousands of college students who are making a difference and changing the world through social justice, service, spiritual values, civic engagement, and responsible action. And thank you, Presidents Plunkett, Reynders, Brand, and Simmons, for your leadership in our United Methodist institutions of higher learning and for helping us all to grow in grace.

4 thoughts on “Growing in Grace with our United Methodist Colleges

  1. Amen. My husband Dennis Fox and I both attended small colleges and we sent out sons to the same. Simpson and Coe. Excellent educations. I received such an excellent religion major education at Simpson that I was a little surprised in Seminary that I had already studied a lot of what many others were finding brand new. As pastor I have encouraged students to go to the Iowa UM colleges. Thanks to the Iowa UM Foundation who is also helping by managing and distributing scholarships to first time attenders in Iowa UM colleges. And thanks to the Iowa UM Foundation for giving Seminarians a chance to get lower interest loans so they can survive the transition from Seminary to full time pastorates. Without a good education the people perish…to coin a phrase.

  2. My only prayer is that there are plenty of scholarships out there so that these students won’t wind up hugely in debt, as seems to be the case these days. And this happens even if the student might have a full-time job as well. I am so lucky I attended college when I did. Had a full time job and easily paid for my tuition and living expenses. Can’t do that today. Something has to be done, so students can get their degrees, especially from our own Methodist colleges, let alone all the others.

  3. Excellent reminder of our important relationships with our institutions of higher learning. As a graduate of Morningside – along with all 4 of my brothers & sisters – Morningside gave us all solid foundations for all we have done in life. Thank you for your words!

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