APU History

More Than 100 Years of God First—Azusa Pacific’s History

God First since 1899. More than a century later, Azusa Pacific remains committed to the vision on which it was founded—preparing disciples and scholars to go out and make a difference in the world for Christ.

Modest Beginnings

Azusa Pacific University, one of the largest Christian universities in the nation today, began on March 3, 1899, when a group of women and men passionate about creating a place for Christian education gathered to form the Training School for Christian Workers. It became the first Bible college on the West Coast geared toward preparing men and women for ministry and service. Meeting in a modest home in Whittier, California, and led by President Mary A. Hill, the school grew to an enrollment of 12 in its first term.

The early years of growth saw the school relocate and change leadership several times. Then, following mergers with three Southern California colleges, the university relocated in 1946 to the city of Azusa, where it resides today.

Leading the Way

The mergers and early growth of the university brought great strides, as well as great challenges, and yet the focus on the school’s core vision never wavered.

In 1939, Cornelius P. Haggard, Th.D., became the school’s 13th president. Among his many accomplishments, Haggard launched a variety of innovative fundraising efforts, including the annual Dinner Rally that continues today. He traveled the U.S. to raise resources for the school, trusting God would provide to meet the university’s needs. Haggard served for the next 36 years, achieving many significant milestones along the way.

After Haggard’s death, Paul E. Sago, Ph.D., became president, serving until 1989. Among his many accomplishments, Sago encouraged the development and growth of off-site educational regional campuses throughout Southern California, and presided over the addition of master’s degree programs and the development of schools within the university.

Richard E. Felix, Ph.D., became president in 1990. Felix played an instrumental role in initiating the university’s first doctoral programs. He also reframed the university’s values as Four Cornerstones—Christ, Scholarship, Community, and Service—and oversaw the construction of seven new buildings, a doubling of student enrollment, and the quadrupling of graduate programs.

In 2000, Jon R. Wallace, DBA, an Azusa Pacific alumnus, assumed the role of president. Wallace served the university for a total of 43 years, including 19 as president. Known for his passion, energy, and connection with the campus community, he led the university through a period of growth, focusing on providing meaningful, transformational scholarship. Under his leadership, the university expanded its graduate program offerings; added new study away opportunities, including the South Africa campus; and completed several new buildings, including the $54 million Segerstrom Science Center.

Looking to the Future

APU welcomed its 17th president, Paul W. Ferguson, Ph.D., DABT, in June 2019. He brings more than 30 years of experience in higher education as a professor in the field of toxicology/public health and as a university administrator, including serving as president of Ball State University and president of the University of Maine. Building on the university’s legacy and looking toward the future, Ferguson initiated a strategic planning process to successfully guide the APU in the next 5 to 10 years, anchoring on the university’s mission of cultivating a vibrant culture of God First, Christ-centered academic excellence.

A Leader in Christian Higher Education

Today, APU offers 68 bachelor’s degrees, 48 master’s degrees, 18 certificates, 10 credentials, and 9 doctoral programs at the university’s main campus in Azusa, seven regional locations, and online. The university holds accreditation from the WASC Senior College and University Commission as well as 14 other specialized accreditations.

The university’s award-winning intercollegiate athletics program consists of 19 teams. Before becoming a member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II in fall 2012, Cougar Athletics won an unprecedented eight consecutive National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Directors’ Cup awards. APU also belongs to the Pacific West Conference in all sports except for football, which belongs to the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC); women’s water polo, which belongs to the Golden Coast Conference (GCC); women’s swimming and diving, which belongs to the Pacific Collegiate Swim and Dive Conference (PCSC); and women’s acrobatics and tumbling, which belongs to the National Collegiate Acrobatics & Tumbling Association (NCATA).

Through all this, Azusa Pacific continues advancing its core mission, preparing and graduating students who go on to make a difference in the lives of others. Learn more by watching the stories of alumni like these as they carry on that tradition while inspiring future generations.

University Presidents

Term Name
1900-01 Mary A. Hill
1901-03 Anna Draper
1903-04 Bertha Pinkham Dixon
1904-09 Matilda Atkinson
1909-19 William P. Pinkham
1919-23 Eli Reece
1923-24 Lowell H. Coate
1924-27 George A. McLaughlin
1927-31 Ray L. Carter
1931-36 David H. Scott
1936-37 B.C. Johnson
1937-39 William Kirby
1939-75 Cornelius P. Haggard
1976-89 Paul E. Sago
1990-2000 Richard E. Felix
2000-2019 Jon R. Wallace
2019-Present Paul W. Ferguson

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