College celebrates two decades as Penn State affiliate

June 18, 2009

Few institutions would mark a 20th anniversary while planning for a centennial celebration just five years later, but Pennsylvania College of Technology plans to do just that.

Twenty years ago, on July 1, 1989, the legislation that created Penn College was signed into law by Gov. Robert P. Casey. It transformed the former Williamsport Area Community College into a wholly owned subsidiary of The Corporation for Penn State.

Prior to the Penn State affiliation, W.A.C.C. operated for 24 years (1965-89) as part of the state community college system. The community college was established on the foundation of the former Williamsport Technical Institute (1941-65). The official founding of W.T.I. in 1941 formalized an adult-education program sponsored by the Williamsport Area School District from 1914-41.

To mark the 20th anniversary of the Penn State affiliation, Penn College is launching a “Countdown to the Centennial.” This five-year program (2009-14) will honor the full history of the institution, beginning in 1914, when the first adult-education class was offered in the basement of the former Williamsport High School – a building that now serves as Penn College’s Klump Academic Center.

“Some may be surprised to learn that our history dates back to 1914, but many families in our community and throughout Pennsylvania have experienced the legacy of our institution across the generations,” said Davie Jane Gilmour, president of Penn College. “We are excited to have this opportunity to share our unique story as an institution of higher learning that has continually evolved in order to keep pace with changes in technology, society and the needs of the workplace.”

Penn College is a special mission affiliate of Penn State, committed to applied technology education. As an affiliate created by law, Penn College serves a role that is different from the university’s campuses. It retains its own mission and goals and is governed by a separate 11-member board of directors. (Nine directors are appointed by Penn State, one by the speaker of the House, and the other by the president pro tempore of the Senate.) The legislation also established that Penn College receives its state appropriation through a separate line item in Penn State’s appropriation.

Gilmour, who was the college’s associate dean of instruction at the time of the affiliation, said: “We have seen the blueprint come to life over the last 20 years. The benefits we had hoped the affiliation would provide – to students, to the community, and to business and industry – have been realized.”

Among the changes realized was increased enrollment; the student body has grown from 3,200 in 1989 to more than 6,500 this year. A total of 22,232 students have earned Penn College degrees since July 1, 1989.

Other enhancements since 1989 include the addition of four-year, baccalaureate-degree programs (which now account for more than 40 percent of the total enrollment), on-campus housing (1,500 students now live on campus), a growing athletics program (part of the Penn State University Athletic Conference and the United States Collegiate Athletic Association) and a primary role in the state’s workforce development (serving as the manager of the state’s largest worker-training program).

Robert E. Dunham, chairman of the board and a retired Penn State executive, said: “Being on the front lines, experiencing the transformation of Penn College, especially over the last decade, has been one of the highlights of my long career in higher education. The students, faculty, staff and alumni are very committed to the unique mission of this premier technology institution.”

Penn State President Graham Spanier has been equally enthusiastic about Penn College, saying it “may be the single greatest success story at Penn State in modern history.”

State Sen. Eugene Yaw served as the college’s solicitor at the time of the affiliation and was a primary architect of the legislation that created Penn College as a proposed solution to an impending loss of local sponsorship for the community college.

“The affiliation stands as a testimony to the good that can come when government and higher education work together for the benefit of the commonwealth,” he said. “We were fortunate to have leaders who understood that the institution was important to the future of Pennsylvania. The affiliation made it possible to ensure a solid future for an institution that has – for nearly a century – been dedicated to education that supports workforce and economic development through the state.”

Penn College will host activities throughout the year to celebrate the anniversary and prepare for the 2014 centennial. Among the events open to the public will be an exhibition featuring a collection of photographs and artifacts from the archives.

The exhibition, “Were You There? – The Evolution of a College Campus,” will run Oct. 6-Nov. 8 in The Gallery at Penn College, on the third floor of the Madigan Library. An opening reception will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 9. Visitors to the exhibition will be encouraged to leave comments about their experiences on a gallery wall created to capture memories from those who “were there” and experienced the history of the institution from 1914 through the present day.

For photos of Penn College, visit http://live.psu.edu/stilllife/233.

For more information about Penn College, visit online, send e-mail or call toll-free (800) 367-9222.

  • An aerial view of the Penn College campus. Click on the image above for more photos from the Penn College campus.

    IMAGE: Chris Cooley

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated November 18, 2010