The university began bachelor's degree completion classes in Merced in the 1990s. Three years ago FPU began considering another center, to join those in North Fresno, Visalia and Bakersfield, and satellite programs in Hanford and Lemoore.
Research and conversation with area education leaders showed need in the Merced-Modesto-Turlock area. "The president of Merced Community College asked us to consider what we could do for their students," said Stephen Varvis, Ph.D., vice president for enrollment management and interim provost.
In 2010 Headstart invited the university to bring its early childhood development degree completion program to Merced, and the University of California Merced inquired about ways to provide teacher-education for its graduates. The first early childhood cohort started in the fall, and progress continues on the U.C. partnership. "We're working on putting together a transfer package," said Amanda Krum-Stovall (MA '09), FPU graduate program representative, adding that Fresno Pacific can provide the level of education these U.C. students are accustomed to.
A new center is the logical next step, according to Cindy Steele, executive director of regional centers. "We have had a number of students travel over two hours round trip to our main campus and the North Fresno Center," Steele said. "They will now have the opportunity to complete their bachelor's degree from a Christian university in their own community."
The FPU cabinet has approved going ahead with the project, and the faculty endorsed the center in January. Plans are to open a 4,800 square-foot facility near Merced College and U.C. Merced in June 2011, with an option to expand. The location and evening classes will help students balance work, family and education.
Starting with about 60 students in the fall of 2011, the university hopes the center will grow to 150 students in a year and offer organizational leadership, school psychology, liberal studies and other education programs, as well as early childhood development.
Also in early summer 2011 FPU plans to add to the North Fresno Center, taking possession of the entire third floor of the building. Soon space will need to be added in Visalia, as well, Varvis predicted.
These projects will expand higher education in the Valley, which has a high percentage of adults who have attended college but not gotten a degree. "That's our purpose," Varvis said, "to continue to meet the needs of our region."