Off to a Good Start

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As Peggi and I were leaving home this Wednesday morning she mentioned quietly that today was our two-year anniversary. Clearly she was not referring to our wedding anniversary. My calendar for this Wednesday back in 2014 had only two entries: 8:00 o’clock—President’s Office; 3:00 o’clock—Town Hall (with all faculty and staff). The previous Tuesday night the FPU Board of Trustees had appointed me president, effective immediately, and I had immediately named Steve Varvis as senior vice president. The administration was restructured and a significantly revised budget was adopted. That Wednesday was the first day of an intentionally time-limited period of significant challenges and changes that are planned to finish with a new president in place by summer of 2017.

My colleague Valerie Rempel, dean of the seminary, sent me a quote attributed to St. Francis that captures the hard path of recovery and redemption we are all walking together and frames it with our verse for this year from Matthew 19:26: “with God all things are possible.”

Start by doing what is necessary,
then do what is possible;
and suddenly you are doing the impossible
.

Now two years into that intense process of intentional change, the 2016-2017 year at Fresno Pacific University has started this transition well. The fiscal year began last May 1, so we are already in the fifth month of this year.

The FPU academic year is actually a continuous pattern of classes for the two thirds of our 3,600 students enrolled in baccalaureate degree completion or master’s degree programs, mostly on our four regional campuses. It is also continuous for the 10,000 online distance learning students taking graduate-level courses in our continuing education program. Many seminary and traditional undergraduate students take courses through the summer and, needless to say, fundraising is also constantly ongoing. That means it is a year-round effort for the teachers, coaches and staff; often well into the night and through weekends.

But September is the time when we do a comprehensive analysis of our enrollments and our financial condition. We now know that we finished each of the last two years with an adequate positive balance in our operations. Very simply that means our revenue exceeded our expenses by sufficient amounts to satisfy the required financial ratios. The audited financial statements will be available by the October board meeting.

The traditional undergraduate (TUG) program on the main campus has 16 percent more freshman this fall than we had last year, and 97 percent of them participated in the three-day Freshman Retreat at Hume Lake, where life transformation began even before their first class or chapel service. With almost 100 new student athletes, many of whom are Presidents or Deans scholars, our teams are expecting a strong year of competitive success, spiritual development, academic achievement and community service. About 25 percent of our TUG students are varsity athletes. Student housing is full to slightly beyond ideal capacity. Students are adjusting to it very well. The Symphonic Band has increased again in both size and quality after its impressive performance in Chicago last spring, and we expect to enjoy a large, colorful and rowdy Sunbird pep band at many of our home athletic events in the Special Events Center this year.

Graduate enrollment includes 27 new seminary students from all over North America in an innovative hybrid online M.A. in Ministry, Leadership and Culture for people who are already in local church ministry. Following the board’s specific directives related to the Strategic Plan, a new Academic Innovation unit has been created, and student recruitment is in process for several new online degree programs that we plan to launch in January 2017.

Our overall enrollment aligns with the budget, but great care must continue to be exerted to ensure that we finish each year “in the black.” That achievement depends on generous support from current donors and on finding new ones. Without those contributions and the related prayer support, FPU cannot continue its transformational ministry. We have no way to make up for a shortfall in contributions or prayer.

Washington Monthly recently ranked Fresno Pacific in the top 10 percent of universities in the Western Region for best value for our combination of high quality and affordability. This national recognition is an excellent indicator that all the extra effort by the faculty, staff, trustees and faithful supporters is succeeding. By God’s grace, the concerted efforts and prayers of countless thousands of volunteers have removed the immediate threat to the Cal Grant for our low-income students and the direct threat to the religious liberty that allows us to be a distinctively Christ-centered university in alignment with our confession of faith. Doing what is necessary and what is possible can by faith achieve what seems humanly impossible. The 2016-2017 year is off to a good start. Keep praying.