Our Rich Variety of Universities

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[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/6797698[/vimeo]Education is in the news.  I think it should always be there, but then I am a bit biased in its favor.

Earlier  this week Fresno Pacific’s good enrollment news was on the local TV stations–we’re up 11% overall.  On Tuesday we had a little celebration on the campus green–ice cream and good cheer all around for anyone who wanted a treat–students, faculty and staff all showed up. The mood on our campuses is good! Students are digging into their studies (mid-terms already in three weeks).  Last week the news was about the opening of our new centers in Visalia and Bakersfield.

Enrollment reports are now being circulated about enrollments from the Christian schools (and other independents) from around the country.  Most schools are either flat (even with last year, in enrollment jargon) or up on average 3-6%.

Last there were reports about the community colleges high enrollment, and the difficulty of students finding classes.  Next week we expect more enrollment reports from schools around the state and valley.

Yesterday students and faculty protested at the campuses of the University of California, according to a front page AP story in today’s Fresno Bee, over “deep budget cuts that have led to layoffs, furloughs, enrollment cuts, course reductions and higher fees.” One union held a staged a small strike.  Other parts of the state systems are also reducing enrollments, or cutting class sections, facing layoffs and/or furloughs, and otherwise reducing costs and services.  And they will have to continue to do so for the next year or more, until the state regains tax revenue, or otherwise sorts out its financial mess.

We faced our own cuts last year–it is painful, difficult, and unfortunately necessary sometimes. We didn’t see protests on campus (our protests go on in meeting rooms and hallways).  Because we are dependent on tuition and donations, when the economy started to go south, we saw the effects immediately as people made hundreds and thousands of individual decisions about their own situations, their readiness to step into a new endeavor, and their sense of what the future would bring. We had to react quickly and respond with programs that met students’ needs, additional financial aid, and with responses to students’ questions and concerns.

The state legislature took longer to address the issue of funding, and the crisis came later to the public schools. We will each weather what appears will be, in California at least, a protracted storm, according to our own institutional and economic cycles.

Last night I witnessed another feature of the rich variety of our universities, but it won’t make the news.  Fresno Pacific hosted the Fresno area College Fair of the North American Coalition of Christian Admissions Professionals (www.naccap.org), this year held at Northwest Church (where one of our grads is the high school pastor–thanks Northwest!).  More than three dozen schools set up displays–most of the west coast Christian colleges and universities and some from the east as well.  Compared to last year, the attendance was way up (probably more than tripled) and students brought energy and enthusiasm to the room.

I barely had a chance to welcome those representing all of the schools to Fresno there were so many students and parents gathering information, talking to counselors, and going to financial aid seminars conducted by our Financial Aid staff.  Future students walked away with bags of materials and a lot to think about.  Some looked giddy, some bewildered.

If we aren’t watching closely we will miss the this unique quality of American higher education, the variety of the forms of higher education that are available for us, and the possibilities for our future. American education, like its politics, is sometimes wild and unruly, and full of opportunity.

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