Tabor 20 benefits students, college and churches

Scholarship offers incentive for Mennonite Brethren students to attend Tabor College

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Tabor College promotes its Tabor 20 scholarship for MB students at USMB NextGen's 2023 high school camp ASCENT, held in Glorieta, New Mexico. Photo: Michael Klaassen

In fall 2020, Tabor College welcomed close to 30 freshmen from Mennonite Brethren churches, an increase of 244 percent from the previous year as reported in a September 2020 press release.

The increase can be attributed to the Tabor 20 scholarship, which awards $29,500 annually to qualifying students from Mennonite Brethren churches and is intended to reverse a trend of fewer MB students enrolling at the MB institution in Hillsboro, Kansas.

Since the inception of the Tabor 20, 64 students have received the scholarship. By offering this incentive worth $118,000 over four years, Tabor seeks to create a mutually beneficial partnership in which MB churches and prospective students have an option for a Christ-centered education and MB students impact Tabor’s campus in positive ways.

Reversing the decline

The Tabor 20 scholarship was introduced in 2019 and implemented in 2020 before David Janzen succeeded Jules Glanzer as Tabor College president in 2021.

In fall 2021, the enrollment of 49 MB students was the lowest it had been in 35 years, compared to a high of 197 students in 1988. Put another way, nearly 46 percent of Tabor students were from MB churches in fall 1986, a percentage that plummeted to 8 percent in fall 2021.

“Allegiance to an MB identity and to MB institutions seems to have waned over the past 30 years,” says Janzen, who invites feedback from churches that do not consider Tabor a school of choice. “I don’t think many MB churches encourage their students to go to Tabor, whereas 30 years ago they did. We work extremely hard to make Tabor the place where families want their students to attend.”

To be eligible for Tabor 20, high school graduates must regularly attend an MB church, meet standard admissions criteria, complete an on-campus interview and write an essay.

Overall MB student enrollment has increased to 63 MB students in fall 2023, or between 11-12 percent of overall enrollment.

“I would say that the Tabor 20 scholarship is part of that,” Janzen says. “It’s not the only reason but it is definitely a part of why those numbers are coming back up.”

Although the trend is reversing, the scholarship has not resulted in a flood of MB students as some prospective students gravitate toward community colleges or state universities, Janzen says.

Tabor distributed scholarships to 29 MB students in 2020, but since then has not reached its cap of 20 new recipients per school year, distributing 10 in 2021, 14 in 2022 and 11 in 2023.  Admittedly, some eligible MB students qualify for larger academic scholarships and choose those over the Tabor 20.

Student impact

The first Tabor 20 scholarship recipients are among the 129 students on track to walk in Tabor’s 115th commencement ceremony May 4.

Many spiritual leaders on campus are Tabor 20 students, Janzen says.

One of those leaders is Carson Duba, who came to Tabor from Bethesda Church in Huron, S.D., to play soccer and study in a spiritual environment.

Tabor 20 recipient Carson Duba, left, received the 2024 Fran Jabara Leadership Award given to two members of the graduating class, nominated by faculty and staff, who demonstrated leadership on Tabor’s campus and as future leaders. Laura Savage, Florence, Kansas, the other 2024 winner, and Duba stand with President David Janzen. Photo: Tabor College

Set to graduate with business and Bible degrees, Duba serves as Campus Ministries Council (CMC) president.

“Spontaneous prayer and worship nights in the prayer room have been one of my favorite experiences at Tabor College,” Duba says, who at the time of the email interview was looking forward to a CMC gathering and “getting an opportunity to encourage, empower and pass on ministry to the younger generation of students.”

To equip Tabor 20 students to lead on campus and in churches and communities, last year Tabor began offering an intentional curriculum focused on scholarship, discipleship and leadership. Though not a required class, it’s expected that Tabor 20 students attend this once-a-month gathering led by Professor of Youth, Church and Culture Wendell Loewen and Campus Pastor Ryan Lee.

“This is a way of engaging with our constituency, especially the MB churches and students coming from those churches,” Janzen says.

Tabor 20 scholarship recipient Trent Ensz, a December 2023 graduate from Kingwood Bible Church in Salem, Oregon, says he has noticed a culture shift on campus.

“When I first got to Tabor, the spiritual atmosphere was cold and stagnant,” says Ensz, who majored in graphic design with a minor in marketing. “Now I can confidently say the culture of campus is one of passionately and persistently seeking Jesus together as one body.”

Another Tabor 20 student, Emma Heide, chose Tabor to pursue swimming and found community.

“I really enjoyed my small group at Ridgepoint Church (in Wichita, Kansas), and I was really sad to leave,” says Heide, who graduated in December 2023 with an elementary education major and minors in English for Speakers of Other Languages and special education. “But Tabor was the best place for me to continue to grow in my faith,” she says. “I basically was able to find the same community with the new friends I had met.”

A glue that binds

Janzen’s hope for the future of Tabor 20 is threefold: first, for churches or individuals to help fund the Tabor 20 scholarship through donations; second, to be able to afford to extend the scholarship to children of Tabor alumni; and third, to encourage more MB students to attend, including those from immigrant churches.

“In many ways, Tabor can become the glue that holds MB churches together when (students) come and have common experiences here, build friendships and then graduate and go into MB churches and start planting churches,” Janzen says. “I’m hopeful that in 20 years, we look back and say, ‘Tabor 20 scholarship at Tabor College is a big part of the health of our conference of churches.’”

For more information about Tabor 20, visit www.tabor.edu/tabor20.

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