Leaders of Fresno Pacific University and West Hills College Coalinga Firebaugh Center signed an agreement to build an academic partnership to help community college graduates earn bachelor’s degrees.

Students who complete their associate degree in Firebaugh in qualified majors will be able to transfer into a bachelor’s degree completion program at FPU, according to the Memo of Understanding between the schools signed March 4, 2024. The degree completion format encourages adult students to achieve their educational goals while balancing work and family responsibilities. Students meet one night a week in groups known as “cohorts” that stay together throughout an accelerated program for mutual learning and support

Plans are to begin with the B.A. in Liberal Arts, which prepares graduates to become elementary school teachers, as well as succeed in other areas. The goal is to expand into more academic programs. 

The need for higher education in the region is clear. Compared to the rest of California, the San Joaquin Valley has the lowest college completion rate and the second lowest per capita income. In addition, in the West Hills Community College District, 24% of residents live in poverty, 62% have less than a high school diploma and 97% have less than a bachelor’s degree.

Most students at FPU and West Hills Community College District, of which the Firebaugh Center is a part, come from modest circumstances and are the first in their families to pursue college. “It is truly exciting and inspirational for us to have the privilege of educating these students, and empowering them to improve, not only their own lives, but those of their families and communities as well,” said André Stephens, Ph.D., president of FPU.  “The honor is truly humbling.”

FPU and WHCC Firebaugh are “setting a new standard for what is possible when two institutions share a common vision,” said Carla Tweed, Ed.D., president of West Hills Community College District. “This partnership is about more than just creating pathways for student progression; it is about building bridges that connect students to their dreams, unite communities and span the gaps in our educational system.”

The signing ceremony took place in the light-filled main lobby of the two-story Firebaugh Center, which features high ceilings and glass walls. The two-year-old building—where FPU classes will be offered—currently serves 350-400 students, ranging in age from eighth grade to adults in their 40s, with room for more. This is a far cry from the original center, which had been at one time or another a law office, bowling alley and café. That site is now part of the parking area for the new center, located at 900 O Street, between major thoroughfare N Street and the San Joaquin River. 

FPU already has a partnership with Reedley College for its B.A. in Early Childhood Development. The university also offers pathway programs with area K-12 school districts such as Visalia Unified, Chawanakee Unified in Madera County and Chaffey Joint Union in Ontario, CA.

Fresno Pacific University is the Central Valley’s accredited Christian university, offering undergraduate, graduate and seminary programs to more than 2,900 students on campuses in Fresno, Visalia, Merced and Bakersfield as well as online. A Hispanic Serving Institution, FPU ranks highly as a "Best Value" and for improving graduates’ social mobility in rankings by The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report, Washington Monthly and Money.

West Hills Community College District has been serving the Central San Joaquin Valley since 1932. The district covers more than 3,300 square miles and enrolls about 10,000 students from locations in Coalinga and Lemoore as well as Firebaugh.


PHOTO (from left): Bethany Azevedo-Matos, dean of West Hills College Coalinga Firebaugh Center; Angela Tos, Ed.D., vice president of student services at West Hills College Coalinga; Carla Tweed; André Stephens; Laura Gonzalez, Ed.D., director of the degree completion liberal arts program at FPU; and Michelle Bradford, Psy.D., interim dean of the FPU School of Graduate and Professional Studies. (FPU photo)  


Wayne Steffen
Associate Director of Publications and Media Relations