It seems like we just celebrated commencement, and we did, less than a month ago. And now a new fall semester starts on July 1. What is going on here? What happened to the old fall, spring academic year? This is one of those changes we talk about but may not see unless we are directly involved. Let me explain a little bit.
The education of adults in the Central Valley is now a central part of our mission. We have been doing it for almost 25 years, since the degree completion program began with the first organizational leadership cohort. Our 108th OL and our 113th liberal arts cohorts will start on July 1. We could go back and count the number of business management, early childhood education, criminology and restorative justice, RN to BSN in nursing, health care administration, Christian ministries and social work cohorts from our now four regional campuses, but we won’t.
The people of our Valley need FPU. We offer a Christian education tailored to their schedules and commitments. Many want to study in our programs and with our faculty, because we offer something different than the other schools. Not only do our programs meet student career and professional goals, we blend in the liberal arts and biblical perspectives. It is a powerful formula.
By design our degree completion effort is year round. When adult students decide they are ready to finish their degree, they tell us, they want to see a clear timeline and endpoint so they know what they need to commit to get it done. We are told, and it has proven true, that these students take from 18-24 months to decide to enroll. But when they do, they want to start quickly and work steadily. They join with a “cohort,” a group of students and faculty who will travel the road of that program together from beginning to end. This is one of the secrets of the program and one of the ways it is designed for student completion and success.
These students work hard. They study broadly. But they are also focused. They concentrate their effort by taking one course at a time over 18 months to complete their major. They understand that they will need the support of their family and friends. They know that they will have to work out financing. They know that they will get very few vacation breaks. They understand that they will be stretched intellectually and in many other ways. But they are committed.
And so on June 30 the spring semester will end, and on July 1 the fall semester will start. One group will finish its work. Another group will begin. Our professors will congratulate those completing their work while laying out the path for the next group. Most students will celebrate in December at the next commencement ceremony.
Professors in the degree completion program, and in most of our graduate programs as well, do not work on the traditional fall and spring semester schedules. They work year round, schedule personal vacations like those in other professions and find great satisfaction in seeing FPU students learn, succeed, graduate and thrive. Meanwhile our admissions, enrollment, financial services and other staff are also hard at work year round, helping students get themselves ready and making support available on the weekends and late in the evenings when students can set aside family and work responsibilities. Our professors design class sessions to build on the strengths that working adult students bring to their academic programs—real-world experience, concentrated effort, commitment and a desire for a program focused on their personal and professional goals.
It is a different kind of academic work than we normally have in mind when we think about college. But it is the kind of work that serves many in our region, helps individuals and families move into more fruitful careers and ways of life, and produces leaders for businesses, schools, communities and churches, just as the traditional model does for its students. When I go to the cities with FPU regional campuses, I hear one thing consistently: I hear how FPU has provided an education that leads to the learning and success of students, and how appreciative people are for our presence in those communities. We are making a difference through Christian higher education in places where it really matters. It takes the dedication and special expertise of many, many people. There is crossover in some cases, but our programs work best when faculty, staff and administrators dedicate themselves to one form of education—traditional undergraduate, degree completion, seminary, graduate.
We desire to see the graduates of our programs exemplify certain qualities. Our strategic plan says it this way: “Wherever FPU graduates are present in the world they will be recognized for consistently demonstrating wise and effective ethical leadership through generous and compassionate service and professional excellence that embodies the kingdom of Christ on earth.” Like our academic calendar, our mission and commitment to the students, communities, businesses, schools and churches we serve is year round.