Fresno Pacific University is a distinctly regional university. The Valley has unique needs and FPU has learned both to adapt to and serve these needs. Our education credentials and master’s degrees address the requirements of local schools. Our seminary graduates serve in local and regional churches from many denominations, as well as in MB churches around the country and world. Our region shapes many of our undergraduate programs, whether traditional or degree completion.
Most colleges and universities in the U.S. are regional schools. They serve primarily those within a few hundred miles of their campuses. One of the reasons for this is the preference and comfort of students and families. Another might be the cost of attendance. State universities usually have in-state and out-of-state tuition rates that favor the in-state student. And universities develop local or regional reputations and become trusted in the communities they serve. According to Stamats, a well-respected higher education consulting organization that we have worked with, 52 percent of graduating high school students enroll in college or university within 50 miles of home. In addition, Christian and other religious institutions serve denominations that may have concentrations of members in a particular area. Tabor College and Fresno Pacific University are examples of this, with large Mennonite Brethren populations in Kansas and the Central Valley of California.
Our university also reflects the diversity of the Valley, with one important addition. While we are more ethnically diverse than almost all other institutions in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities nationwide, with one of the highest numbers of Hispanic students in all of our student populations, we also have a faith-based mission unique in our region. As we embrace the diversity of our communities, we do so understanding that all the people we serve are part of God’s Kingdom. One of the ways this works out in practice is that we seek to serve the Valley’s diverse churches as well its diverse people. We know that healthy communities include faith that leads to the highest ideals, and to loving and reconciling personal relationships.
Why should we pay attention to ourselves as a regional university, and our distinctness as a regional university? It is very difficult and costly to gain a national reputation, taking resources we can put to good use close to home. I do not think we need to be a national university, at least now. It may not be something we ever want to become, except in a few niche areas (like the seminary, CPACS and select online programs). We can reach out to establish select international relationships that bring new perspectives to the university, and take our influence beyond the Valley (more on this later, perhaps). But the recognition of our unique place in the Valley, with a particular academic mission that addresses the needs of this region and its people, and with a unique and unifying Christian mission, ought to point us in a particular way. If we strive after something we are not ready to be, or perhaps do not want to be, we will miss the needs and opportunities to serve already before us.
There are a few ways in which we reach beyond the Valley, and we shouldn’t neglect these even in our regional focus. For instance, we would like to partner more with Hispanic MB churches in Southern California, and we continue to actively serve and recruit students from the Pacific Northwest, which is also part of the Pacific District Conference of MB Churches. When we serve our sponsoring churches, especially in a denomination as diverse as the Mennonite Brethren, we learn to serve many different peoples and churches. The Valley is a unique place that does attract some students from other parts of the country who understand the opportunities that Fresno Pacific offers. As we gain more experience serving this widely diverse region, we will learn more fully how to serve the world.
Over the years, as our contributions have been made to this region, and as our faculty and student populations have been formed from this region, and as we have been shaped by our mission, we have come to see our region as our mission. Only we can serve it as we have. Other institutions share in the work of education in this place, but only we can do what we do. The transformation we provide to students and communities is just what the Valley needs. There is no one else to do it. This is our mission.
In an impoverished region, transformation must include preparing students for professions and leadership. It is the way we do this that makes us special. We are the educational difference in the Central Valley, from Merced to Bakersfield, for our people, for God’s people, for our schools, churches, businesses and communities. We can be the University of Choice in the Valley. We will have to be excellent in the preparation of students academically, excellent in their development ethically and spiritually and excellent in our service to the region we call home. This is what God has given us—could we ask for anything better?
Check out video conversations by Richard Kriegbaum, president, and Stephen Varvis, provost and senior vice president, on issues important to FPU online.