William Jessup started San Jose Bible College in 1939 to educate young people for ministry. Now the school bears his name, maintains his mission, and is led by his son Bryce. As the fifth president of William Jessup University, Bryce Jessup has led the school through a dramatic move of its campus from the inner city of San Jose to become the first private, accredited four-year college in the Sacramento basin. Bryce and his bride of 51 years, Jo, have three children, all of whom are in vocational ministry, along with seven grandchildren and a great-grandchild on the way.
Would you classify Jessup as a school of ministry?
We are a school of ministry, both vocational and marketplace. We”re focused on becoming a university known for great classroom instruction and mentoring as well as practical, “in the trenches” preparation.
Where do your students come from?
About 80 percent of our students come from within a 100-mile radius of the school. We still draw from San Jose, and we have a degree-completion program with extension sites in San Jose and at our main campus in Rocklin. We recruit students through the churches as our first target and through camps, youth conventions, Christian high schools, and college fairs. We want to be always true to our roots in the Restoration Movement but inclusive of the whole body of Christ.
You”ve been known as a school with a large number of foreign students.
One of the challenges we face here is we”re having to work hard to maintain our international flavor. In Silicon Valley, we had neighbors from all over the world. Here in Rocklin, it is 92 percent European-American. It is also slowing down because tougher immigration restrictions today make it harder to recruit from other countries. In San Jose we had a lot of people from the community who would bring contacts from third world countries, so a lot of contacts came through that natural bridge and a lot came through the missionary bridge.
Why did you leave San Jose?
We were on eight acres of land, unable to grow. We felt God was calling us to an expanded ministry, but we had nowhere to express it. The downtown area was way too congested, and we needed a lot more land to fulfill our mission adequately.
Placer County is one of the fastest-growing counties in the state of California and has more new churches than anywhere we know of in the state of California. Many of those are megachurches. So we had a very welcoming church community and an area that is more “Christianized” than most counties. The community was anxious for us to come, so the churches not only welcomed us, but the business community, educational community, and political community put out the red carpet for us too. There is an ownership of the school that just wasn”t there in San Jose. Opportunities to speak to those groups have been in abundance. Even the political community has reached out to us. Laura Bush spoke on our campus in November, encouraging people to get out and vote.
The move to Rocklin started in 2004, would you call it complete?
That depends on how you define complete. We”re almost like a new start-up, because the opportunity is so enormous and we”re expanding our curriculum as fast as we can to meet the marketplace opportunities, such as teacher credentialing, business, counseling, psychology, public policy, etc.
On the scale of success, 10 being completely successful, how would you rate the move?
On a scale of 1 to 10 it was an 11. We”re thrilled to be here. The growth is unbelievable. We finished at San Jose with around 300 students. Our first year here we had 400 and we have more than 600 this year. If you use enrollment as your guideline, the move was successful. If you use degree expansion it was successful. So many things came together. The enrollment, community acceptance, morale, and quality of students we are attracting has risen. We have attracted wonderful new staff. Our funding has surprised us. We thought it was way beyond our resources, but God has continued to provide. Ultimately we have room to accommodate 5,000 students. Our dream is to become the premier Christian university in Northern California. The momentum is there, the resources are there, and the opportunity is there.
What have the buildings done for you?
The buildings were designed by Frank Gehry, who is an award-winning architect. They were award-winning buildings to begin with, and our architect has done a wonderful job in renovating them for college use. We have received numerous awards for the renovation, and students come on campus and say, “cool, cool.”
When you were in local church ministry did you anticipate leading the college at some time?
I didn”t think about it until they actually contacted me and asked me. I didn”t think it was something I would be suited for. When invited to interview, I put out a fleece and said the call had to be unanimous from the faculty, board, and administration. I didn”t tell them that, but that”s where the vote came down.
Think back to 1984. You”re the new president of San Jose Christian College, what”s your vision for the school?
I saw the school floundering, and I had an investment in it because my dad started it. I saw the potential of what it could become””a powerful center for producing world changers.
Would you say the vision has changed since then?
Considerably. The school”s vision matched that of its beginning””as mainly a school to equip pastoral ministers, youth ministers, church vocational leaders. The vision now is that we would broaden that to minister to all levels of our society, both locally and globally.
How has your father”s influence affected your presidency? Were there parts of his vision that you are still achieving?
We”re still very strong in the areas of church ministries. We”re trying to strengthen that by having Stadia”s office on campus. We want to build a global center for church planting. We are very interested in continuing to prepare workers for the church. But as our society has changed since 1939 we have had to change to impact it. Always being rooted in the Scripture and the lordship of Christ, but changing our delivery system so we can get an audience. The traditional Bible college model was right for us in 1939, but we think our model in Northern California is right for us in 2007 and beyond. The mission remains the same, to equip servant/leaders by integrating biblical truth with every subject we teach and send our students out to change the world for our Lord.
What have you learned in the past 22 years?
I have learned that to persevere with a dream, and if it”s God”s dream, he will ultimately get you to the promised land. The road there is not always a straight road, because he”s got many things to teach you, so that when you arrive you can take full advantage of the opportunity. You”ve got to dream a dream and build a team. There”s no way I could have done it by myself. It”s the team that wins the victories. Individuals may win trophies, but the team wins the pennant. If it”s his dream, and all of those elements come together, he”ll provide the resources.