Then called Pacific Bible Institute, Fresno Pacific College moved to its main Fresno campus in 1959. It now occupies several facilities in the Central Valley. Images via Fresno Pacific University
Written by Fresno Pacific University
Fresno Pacific’s 75 years tell the story of a growing partnership with Fresno and Central California. As Pacific Bible Institute, Pacific College, Fresno Pacific College and today Fresno Pacific University, our impact is felt through thousands of alumni living and working in the Valley.
The sun shone Sept. 18, 1944, on 28 students, their teachers, parents and friends at 1095 N. Van Ness Ave. in Fresno. With a stanza of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” class began at Pacific Bible Institute, operated by the Pacific District Conference of Mennonite Brethren (MB) Churches.
In 1959 PBI moved to an old cotton field at the corner of Chestnut and Butler avenues, which is still the main campus. Pacific College’s 1965 accreditation for bachelor’s degrees was celebrated by a parade of 250 sign-holding students and faculty, with President Arthur Wiebe, Ph.D., riding in an open convertible.
Wiebe drafted a brave vision and hired a young faculty. Both would serve through the century as the school became Fresno Pacific University. As important as any building would be the Fresno Pacific Idea, introduced in 1966, which remains the blueprint for carrying out the school’s motto — Founded on Christ.
Broadening the Outreach
A milestone in community outreach came in 1983, when President Edmund Janzen released “Broadening the Base.” The times had brought much to celebrate and much to consider for Fresno Pacific College. Enrollment had exceeded 400 in 1970 and the first master’s program was approved in 1974. But MBs, once the entire student body, were no longer the majority.
Janzen believed offering all students an education centered on Christ, Scripture and servanthood would benefit both college and region. The next president, Richard Kriegbaum, Ph.D., in 1990 oversaw the creation of two major links to the community: the Center for Peacemaking & Conflict Studies, now the Center for Peacemaking, and the adult bachelor’s degree completion (DC) program.
DC classes opened in Visalia in 1992, in Bakersfield and Merced in 1996 and in North Fresno in 2005. Since 2009 DC has been the largest enrollment population. DC graduates spread the riches of higher education to a region that trails state and nation in the number of people with bachelor’s degrees.
Also reaching the Valley is the Center for Community Transformation. Begun in 2012 as part of Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary (formerly Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary), CCT supports social enterprise; anti-human trafficking efforts; and education for Hispanic pastors.
The Face of the Valley
Today Fresno Pacific University’s 4,100-plus students are the diverse face of the Central Valley: 49% are first-generation, 47% identify as Latinex and all enjoy the Valley’s highest graduation rates. In addition, 67% come from families earning under $40,000 a year and 98% receive financial aid. Students come from 40 countries and many religious traditions.
FPU also attracts national attention. U.S. News & World Report ranks FPU in the top tier of its category, and it and Washington Monthly call the university a best value, while Money magazine rates it 11th among Best Colleges for Transfer Students, highest for Christian schools.
Still true since that spring day in 1944 is that FPU is the only independent Christian university founded in the Central Valley. Programs emphasize values, ethics and character development so our graduates can see that “with God, anything is possible.”