Raising people and communities out of poverty and keeping talent in the Central Valley are critical to the success of the region, according to leaders of area community colleges, universities and professional colleges who met May 16 at Fresno Pacific University.

“I don’t think we compete with each other,” said Joe Castro, Ph.D., president of California State University, Fresno. “That’s because there’s so much need in the Central Valley.”

Castro; Florence Dunn, president, California Health Sciences University; Joseph Jones, Ph.D., president, FPU; Paul Parnell, Ph.D., chancellor, State Center Community College District; and Janice Pearson, J.D., dean, San Joaquin College of Law sat on a panel moderated by Juanita Stevenson, local television education reporter. The event was part of Leadership Fresno Class 35, a leadership-development program sponsored by the Fresno Chamber of Commerce.

The mission of community colleges is to meet all students where they are and provide a pathway to a better life, Parnell said. Some 60 percent of state center students qualify for free tuition. “What we’d like to do is be that North Star for our community,” he said.

Since FPU students come from the same ethnic and economic backgrounds as students at area public schools, the challenge is making private Christian education affordable, Jones said. He pointed out that the university is ranked Number 11 by Money magazine for best schools for transfer students (the highest-rated Christian university on the list), and that the average college debt of Fresno Pacific graduates is about the same as the statewide average for graduates of the California State University system. “It’s all about how we can alleviate poverty and advance our students,” he said.

Some 70 percent of the 25,000 students at California State University, Fresno, are the first in their families to attend college or university, said Castro, himself a first-generation student and Valley native. One challenge facing Fresno State are state funding cutbacks, when CSU campuses are supposed to accept the top one-third of high school graduates. “We had to refuse 9,000 students,” he said. “That’s what’s keeping me up at night.”

The need for professional education is also great. “This sounds laughable, but we do not have enough lawyers in the San Joaquin Valley,” Pearson said. SJCL, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, posts at least one job opening for an attorney each week, and employers call her looking for more graduates, Pearson said. Lawyers don’t just work in law offices—they are also in business, government and many other areas. “It’s an incredibly powerful degree,” she said. “There’s incredible talent here, our problem is the talent leaves.”

Dunn quickly agreed that keeping educated people in the Valley is crucial. “Our vision is to recruit and retain,” she said. CHSU opened in Clovis in 2012 as a college of pharmacy and is graduating its second class this year. Plans are underway for a college of osteopathic medicine and in the future up to 10 post-graduate colleges in health care fields. “The key is providing access,” she said.

The good news for the future is that leaders meet and value working together. “I’ve never seen as much collaboration and commitment as I’ve seen in the Valley,” said Jones.

PHOTO (from left): Paul Parnell, State Center Community College District; Joseph Jones, FPU; Joe Castro, California State University, Fresno; Janice Pearson, San Joaquin College of Law; and Florence Dunn, California Health Sciences University. (FPU photo)


Wayne Steffen
Associate Director of Publications and Media Relations