Eastern Mennonite University

Spring 2008

Entrusting Their Children

About a third of EMU's students are "legacies"

Kraybills, EMU alumni
Son and father, Peter Kraybill '97 (J.D., Penn State) and J. Elvin Kraybill '70 (J.D., Georgetown) not only share a common history at EMU, they practice law together in Gibbel, Kraybill & Hess of Lancaster, Pa. (www.gkh.com).

At EMU this spring, 280 undergraduates out of an enrollment of about 900 are “legacy” students. This means at least 31% of our students come from families where at least one parent is an alumnus of EMU.

“This is a highly unusual percentage of legacy students,” says George Dehne, president of GDA Integrated Services, a South Carolina firm that has done market research for more than 300 educational institutions across the nation.

“The greatest symbol of confidence in a college is the willingness of its alumni to entrust their children to it,” he adds.

Such “entrusting” is understandable if the college is Ivy League or otherwise considered prestigious, such as those in the top ranks of the Princeton Review. In such cases, the children of alumni are able to “play the legacy card” to gain an advantage in a highly competitive admission process.

“At U.Va., the legacy preference is seen as one way to encourage alumni to keep on making the donations that help keep tuition down,” reported the Associated Press in March, 2003.

Former senator John Edwards has objected to U.Va. and other colleges that permit applicants’ family status to give them an edge in the admission process.

“Today, sons and daughters of alumni make up more than 10 percent of students at Harvard, Yale and Princeton. They are 23 percent of the student population at Notre Dame. At the University of Virginia, 11 percent of this year’s freshmen class were children of alumni.” (This is from the 2003 AP article mentioned above and posted on www.cnn.com/2003/education.)

Let us be clear. None of this applies to EMU’s legacies. Our admissions department gives no preference to children of alumni. Actually, most legacies arrive with great grades and strong test scores.

Instead large numbers of alumni - more than 1,000 in the last decade - appear to be encouraging their children to attend EMU because, quite simply, they love the college and what it stands for.

David Troyer, a 1987 EMU graduate living in Walnut Creek, Ohio, says: “When you experience something that truly moves you and you are certain it has changed your life for the better, you naturally want your children to have the same opportunity.” (David is pictured in the "Enterprising Folks" photo collection).

Not Just a Number

EMU Undergrads Derrick and Nick Troyer
Undergrads Derrick and Nick Troyer are the sons and grandsons of alumni.

David’s son, senior Derrick Troyer, affirms, “My parents were a big influence. They really pushed me to go to a Mennonite school, just because of their prior experiences at EMU. They were always talking about how you make lifelong friends at EMU. You can have one-on-one relationships with teachers. You are not just a number.”

Derrick told his parents he would try it out - “I thought it would be possible for me to transfer to another school” - but he not only stayed, he was joined by his younger brother Nick after his second year here.

Derrick and Nick come from a family that operates successful businesses in Ohio and Florida, including restaurants, a hotel and retirement community. Troyer’s wife, Anna, graduated from EMU’s nursing program in 1999 as an adult student.

“Anna and I wanted a college experience for our sons that was Christ-centered in an atmosphere that encourages the exploration and deepening of their faith,” David said. “We also wanted them to have the opportunity to make life-time friends and form connections to the broader world through the global village requirements.”

David himself is the son of an EMU alumnus. His father and partner in the family businesses, Levi, earned a two-year associate degree in 1967. “It’s a wonderful location and a wonderful place to study,” Levi said in a phone interview from his Florida home. “I made friends for a lifetime there.”

Allon Lefever, director of EMU’s MBA program from 2003 to 2008 (still teaching here), notes that “members of the founding generation of EMU-linked businesses have done a remarkable job of passing responsibilities to the next generation.

“Many of their children see the values which their parents bring to their business cultures and dealings, and elect to also attend EMU to develop leadership skills with similar core values. Consciously or unconsciously, many are preparing themselves to someday lead their family businesses.”

This is true of Derrick Troyer, who works part-time as a desk clerk at a hotel in Harrisonburg, Va., partly to help earn his way through college and partly to familiarize himself more with hotels. He is majoring in business.

The words “life-long” or “life-time friends” acquired at EMU were volunteered by members of three generations of Troyers, interviewed separately in three locations - Ohio, Virginia and Florida.

Derrick said he became especially close to the 20 or so students with whom he traveled to Guatemala in the spring of 2006. (Learn more about EMU's unique and long-standing cross-cultural program.) At one point they lived with rural host families who had no electricity or plumbing. “Chickens slept in the room with me and we cooked on an open fire inside the house. It was the most hard-core cross-cultural that I could have gone on.”

The Troyer boys have decided they like carrying on the family tradition of coming to EMU and having common experiences to share, not only with their parents and grandparents, but with cousins, aunts and uncles. Says Nick: “My dad had Ron Stoltzfus [a business professor], and so have I.”

Derrick adds: “Jay Landis [recently retired English professor] taught my great-aunt Mary. He remembered and talked to me about her!”

Six Families, Same Story

Candi Sauder King ’96 and John P. Sauder ’04 (pictured in the "Enterprising Folks" photo collection) are the fourth generation in their family linked to EMU, beginning with their great-grandfather, Abram G. Heishman, one of five men who taught the first 40 students in a “special Bible term” at Eastern Mennonite in 1916. He became assistant principal under J.B. Smith in 1917. Next came their grandmother, Theda Shetter Heishman ’39, then their father John D. and mother Bonita Heishman Sauder, both class of 1972. The family is rooted in Lancaster, Pa.

Elsewhere in this magazine, you’ll read that Phil Wenger ’82, also living in Lancaster, is the grandson of the second president of EMU, son of two alumni, and one of seven siblings who came to school here. And that Grace Witmer Styer ’79 of Columbiana, Ohio, is one of seven sisters and two brothers who were educated at Eastern Mennonite, several of whom have sent their children here. The bulk of this third generation of Witmers are pre-college age, so many more likely will come.

Yet these cases are not rare. The special 90th anniversary issue of Crossroads in the fall of 2007 featured relatives and descendants of Barbara Risser, who came to Eastern Mennonite in 1949. She must have enjoyed her experience and passed the word, because 21 members of the Risser clan have since attended EMU, including son Phil Risser ’80 (pictured in the "Enterprising Folks" photo collection). Barbara and her husband Ben re-located not long ago from Pennsylvania to a house near EMU to keep in closer touch with the comings and goings of the second and third generation of Rissers at EMU.

“Graduations, concerts, theater performances - we’re eating it up because it won’t last long.” Barbara told a local news reporter. Well, that is, until the fourth generation of Rissers starts flooding in.

As EMU becomes more diverse, foreign nationals who have graduated from here are beginning to send their children back to their alma mater. Freshman Samfee Doe is the daughter of Sam Gbaydee Doe, a 1998 Liberian graduate from EMU’s then-new masters program in conflict transformation. He is now working for the United Nations in Sri Lanka.

Samfee Doe and Richard Bikko, EMU students
Samfee Doe and Richard Bikko, both class of 2011, are children of graduates of EMU's MA in conflict tranformation.

Richard Bikko, class of 2011, is the son of Doreen Ruto, a 2006 alumna of EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. Richard attended Harrisonburg High School while Doreen was pursuing her masters degree. When she returned to their home in Kenya, she encouraged him to enroll in EMU. “She said it was close to my faith - a good community for me to live in - and it had a good track program,” says Richard.

EMU at Head of Pack

Two years ago, the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) surveyed 270,000 freshmen at 393 colleges.

EMU was in a class by itself in terms of legacy students: CIRP found that 33% of EMU’s incoming first-year students in 2006 were from families where at least one parent attended EMU.

By comparison, 8.8% of freshmen at four-year colleges nationwide were attending the alma mater of a parent, according to CIRP. At four-year religious colleges, the percentage of children-of-alumni was slightly higher, 9.1%.

CIRP assured each participating institution of the confidentiality of the information provided in the survey. As a result, CIRP only issued composite statistics, such as the percentages given above for all four-year colleges.

So Crossroads asked some comparable colleges about their legacy rates.

The Mennonite colleges seem to enjoy a high rate of alumni loyalty. Over the last three years, Goshen has averaged 36% alumni children in its first-year classes, with Hesston averaging 25% in the last two years.

By comparison, the three Baptist (or historically Baptist) colleges that replied to the Crossroads query - Wingate College and Wake Forest University in North Carolina and Linfield College in Oregon - averaged 9% alumni children in their freshmen classes. Of these, Linfield College - which was specifically queried because it resembles EMU with its long history, small size and faith-based ethos, has the highest rate of alumni loyalty - an average of 15% of the incoming class over the last six years has been children of Linfield alumni.

Among the Catholic colleges, Crossroads expected to find a high rate of alumni loyalty. Yet of the three Catholic institutions that replied - Notre Dame in Indiana, Duquesne in Pennsylvania, and Aquinas in Michigan - only Notre Dame had a legacy rate comparable to the Mennonite colleges. Today and historically, 20 to 25% of Notre Dame’s freshman class is legacy, according to Notre Dame’s associate dean of admissions, Kevin Rooney. For Duquesne and Aquinas, the figure is below 15%.

Among the Quaker colleges, over the last two years Earlham College in Indiana reported an average of 15% legacy students and George Fox University, a fast-growing evangelical Quaker college in Oregon, reported 10% legacy students.

Why would EMU’s alumni be sending their children to their alma mater in higher-than-average numbers, rivaling or bettering the loyalty of Notre Dame’s alumni?

If you remain unsure, try reading the article by Sarah Moffett ’02, who is not a legacy student herself. Or try asking an EMU alumnus about “The EMU Difference.” Better yet, come visit, talk to people on campus, and see for yourself.

Back to table of contents