At my first youth convention, I found out the real truth about the five Mennonite colleges – they’re so different.

Goshen College has wonderful purple pens; Bluffton University has cool little bags; Bethel College has neat, light-up key chains; Hesston College has pencils with erasers that actually work; and Eastern Mennonite University has puzzles.

Does it seem odd that Mennonite higher education is spending money and resources to compete against other Mennonites? It’s not exactly a perfect picture of loving one’s neighbor. Especially in the current economic reality, are we willing to watch a Mennonite college close down?

What if Mennonite colleges could work together to portray our shared aspects of Mennonite liberal arts education: community, global education and peacemaking? We could create a larger wave in the college market.

I don’t think it’s important which Mennonite school someone chooses. What matters is that a person chooses a Mennonite college.

The reality is that the Mennonite colleges are not prospering. And it’s not because everyone is choosing the same Mennonite college – it’s because people are not choosing Mennonite colleges at all.

I think that at Convention 2009 in Columbus this summer, we should tell the thousands of youth why they should chose a Mennonite college. In the era of hyper-individualism, why do we need to be just Goshen College? I’d rather be “Goshen College, neighbor and friend to EMU, Bethel, Bluffton and Hesston.” This feels more confident amidst our uncertain realities.

When the college mail starts piling up for overwhelmed prospective students, the single Hesston College letter can easily get buried under the other state schools. It is more difficult to bury the idea of THE MENNONITE COLLEGE.

We could even make a Mennonite college T-shirt with a thresher, beaver, maple leaf, lion and larks if necessary.

Annalisa Harder is a sophomore English and history double major from Bluffton, Ohio.