VUSD expands higher education opportunities for students

Visalia Unified School Board votes to add Fresno Pacific University to the list of higher education pathways for students

VISALIA – After only 15% of graduating seniors went on to a four year university last year, Visalia Unified is working to expand pathways making it easier for students to move on to higher education.

On Feb. 28, the Visalia Unified School District (VUSD) Board of Trustees unanimously voted to approve a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Fresno Pacific University (FPU). The MOU will provide juniors guaranteed admissions to FPU after they complete a certain amount of required classes. This is the second deal VUSD has made with a college and the third school FPU has connected with. Both VUSD and FPU have the same goal in mind of getting more students to reach higher education.

“Knowing that our students have guaranteed admissions to multiple universities reaffirms our commitment that all students can achieve at high levels and demonstrate continuous growth,” Board Clerk Jacqueline Gaebe said.

According to VUSD’s superintendent Kirk Shrum, in the 2021-2022 school year, only 300 of the 2,000 graduating seniors enrolled in a four year university. After seeing those numbers, the district began looking into ways to create pathways for their students.

Visalia Unified School District strongly believes every student can perform at high levels, therefore began reaching out to universities to create pathways for students to show that we believe and support them in their educational journey,” Shrum said.

FPU offers more than 100 areas of study, including undergraduate, graduate, seminary and degree completion programs. The MOU will guarantee admissions for juniors who have a 3.0 grade point average (GPA) and have completed all A-G requirements. It also allows for particular scholarship and grant opportunities for VUSD students. It could also allow for on-site registration and admission verification at all the high school sites, including alternative education sites.

According to VUSD it will also create different pipelines for counselors, social workers and teachers. FPU offers credentialing programs that could help expand the education realm in the Valley according to Shrum.

“The credentialing programs could help our community grow talent and retain talent in the Central Valley,” Shrum said. “Similarly, forming these partnerships gives Visalia Unified an opportunity to develop future mentorship and scholarship programs for students.”

The MOU also allows the district to explore the creation of having FPU college-level courses made available to VUSD students in Grades 9-12. They will look at hosting classes through either traditional, virtual or hybrid formats. It also opens the discussion to explore the use and development of a university high school at each campus in the future.

This is the second partnership of its kind for VUSD guaranteeing admissions to a university for all students who complete the requirements. A similar contract was signed with University of Merced, California on October 25, providing students automatic enrollment upon graduation. The main difference between the two schools is that FPU is a private university. Typically costs are higher for private universities, but Shrum said it is their goal to open as many doors as they can for their students.

Fresno Pacific University offers great programs and a strong financial aid package for students. If FPU is the right place for a student, we want to make that process streamlined for them,” Shrum said.

According to Wayne Steffen, associate director of publications and media relations for FPU, despite FPU being a private, christian university, it is fairly competitively priced. He said with the offering of scholarships and grants, as well as their accepting of CAL grants, tuition costs should not be much different in comparison to other Universities of California and California State Universities.

“[Scholarships, grants, CalGrants] really do end up making the price of a Fresno Pacific University education very competitive with, particularly with UCs, but even in some cases the CSUs, particularly again for students who are in this region,” Steffen said.

There will still be an application process with these programs, however, it will just be easier for the students. FPU started to create these partnerships this year and VUSD was their third addition to the program. As part of the program, Steffen said FPU will go to each school site and provide workshops to students. It helps to educate students about FPUs campus and school, rather than having students have to visit their campus.

“We’ve always had a good relationship with Visalia Unified,” Steffen said. “It is a high quality school district in this region, so we’re just very excited to be able to increase that relationship and increase outreach to those students.”

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