Penn State Schuylkill traces its origins to the Depression years of the 1930's, when a citizen’s group in Pottsville began to explore options for local, affordable, post-secondary education. Meanwhile, The Pennsylvania State College adopted guidelines on May 22, 1934 for the establishment of Undergraduate Centers throughout Pennsylvania in an effort to bring its services to more of the commonwealth’s citizens. Pottsville was quickly proposed as one of the sites for a center and a survey of the county’s educational needs was completed. Pottsville, along with Hazleton and Uniontown, was approved by the State Superintendent of Schools on July 25, 1934 as a location for an Undergraduate Center.
Classes began at the Pottsville Undergraduate Center on September 19, 1934 with Walter R. Van Voorhis as administrative head. Twenty freshmen were enrolled by opening day and were taught by a faculty of six. Several weeks later, a need for part-time enrollment was realized, and an evening Extension School was opened. Enrollment soon increased to 62. Classes were held on one floor of the Bunker Hill Building at Ninth and Schuylkill Streets in Pottsville. The building was leased from the Pottsville School Board for one dollar per year, an arrangement that would last until 1966. Penn State students also used the laboratory facilities of the nearby Pottsville High School in the late afternoons.
The Center initially allowed students to complete the first year of a degree program locally before going on to University Park. Enrollment grew steadily, and larger facilities were soon needed. By 1937 the college was leasing the entire Bunker Hill Building. Chemistry and physics labsa student lounge and a snack bar were added. In the early 1940's, Van Voorhis was replaced briefly by Wallace Brewster followed by T. Stewart Goas in 1942. By the end of World War II, enrollment increased considerably and summer sessions were added to the schedule. The Yorkville School Building at 20th and Norwegian Streets was also leased from the Pottsville School District, and provided an additional six classrooms and faculty offices. Liberal arts classes were taught in the Yorkville Building, while science classes were housed in the Bunker Hill Building.
In 1944 an advisory committee of local citizens was incorporated as the Schuylkill Education Foundation. Now known as the Advisory Board of the Schuylkill Campus of Penn State University, this board continues to exemplify the close association between the campus and the community.
Center received a new name in 1948, the Pennsylvania State College Center of Pottsville, along with another new building. The former Dietz Funeral Home at 912 Mahantongo Street was remodeled to house administrative offices, a library, a psychology clinic, bookstore, and classrooms. The Yorkville Building was then closed. Henry I. Herring succeeded Goas as head of the Center in 1949.
In 1953, the same year the Pennsylvania State College became the Pennsylvania State University, the Pottsville Center introduced its first associate degree program. This program in drafting and design technology, allowed location-bound students to complete a degree without leaving Schuylkill County.
Space constraints in Pottsville led the Schuylkill Educational Foundation to begin a search in the 1950's for a new campus site. The county owned a tract of land of over 200 acres south of Schuylkill Haven which had been used since the 1830's as a “poor farm,” providing a home and livelihood for the county’s indigent and mentally ill. By the late 1950's, changes in social services and in agriculture had made the “poor farm” concept obsolete. The county discontinued the farming operation in 1961 and consolidated its remaining patients into one nursing home building on the property.
The county agreed to sell a 42-acre parcel of land to the University for one dollar. The tract contained six buildings and a large barn. Architects determined that only the old hospital building, constructed in 1897; a building built in 1913 which had housed the poor and mentally disturbed; and a storage building/slaughterhouse for livestock built in 1928 would remain. These structures were renovated and became, respectively, the Classroom Building, the Administration Building, and the Maintenance Building (currently named the Business Services "B" Building).
Renovations were completed by the end of 1966 at a cost of $576,743.00, and the Schuylkill Campus (as it had been known since 1963) was opened for classes at its Schuylkill Haven location in January 1967 with an enrollment of 468.
Penn State Schuylkill soon became a residential campus with the acquisition in the fall of 1967 of the former Anthracite Research Laboratory on East Main Street in Schuylkill Haven. This building was turned into housing for about fifty female students. A large garage on the property was renovated and used as a field house/gymnasium. In late 1977 the 1.2 million dollar Multi-Purpose Building was added to the campus, providing a gymnasium, auxiliary gym, offices, storage space, and an additional classroom. This facility brought increased opportunities for intramural and intercollegiate athletics to the campus.
Director Henry Herring retired in 1978, and was succeeded by Dr. Wayne D. Lammie. The campus continued to grow and to reconfigure spaces to meet changing needs. In 1979 the library was moved to the lower level of the Classroom Building, freeing up space on the first floor for a Conference Center which provided meeting space for University and outside groups. The 1.3 million dollar Student/ Community Center was dedicated in 1983 and included an auditorium, expanded food service, and a student lounge area.
Originally designed to serve the needs of the local community, the campus was also experiencing increased enrollments from outside the local area which necessitated additional housing. The women's residence hall was opened to men in 1985, but more space was still needed. The county gave the campus three additional parcels of land to the north and west of the campus and the Advisory Board financed the construction of the Nittany Apartment buildings. The first building, Nittany I, housed 32 students and was completed in fall 1987. Additional units on the grounds followed and in the spring of 1991 the campus was able to close the dormitory located across Route 61.
In 1987 the largest fund-raising campaign in the county to date was initiated, raising over one million dollars locally for the construction of a new library building. The building housed the two-story library, a fully-equipped television studio, the Learning Center, and meeting rooms and was opened in 1994. The space formerly occupied by the library in the lower level of the Classroom Building was renovated to become the Sol and Julia Cotler Computer Center.
Program offerings also began increasing in the late 1980s in response to the need for increased opportunities for location-bound students and Penn State Schuylkill began offering a bachelor of science degree with a major in Nursing and an extended bachelor’s degree in General Arts and Sciences. Certificate programs in business management and law enforcement were announced in late 1994.
In 1996, as part of a University-wide initiative to streamline the campus operations, Penn State Schuylkill chose to merge with Penn State Harrisburg to become part of the two-campus Capital College, expanding opportunities for local four-year programs. The merger became effective July 1, 1997. Bachelors’ degrees in criminal justice, business, and psychology and a master’s in teaching and curriculum were implemented that year.
In 1998 a new physical plant building was constructed and the former maintenance building was renovated and became the Student Activities and Advising Center. By the year 2000 the campus had its own endowed scholarships, helping to further its mission of making a college education affordable. Dr. Wayne Lammie retired from his position as campus executive officer in 2000 and was succeeded by Dr. Sylvester Kohut Jr.
An administrative reorganization was announced by the University in 2005 which dissolved the merger between the Schuylkill and Harrisburg campuses. Penn State Schuylkill became a part of the University College and its local campus executive was given the title of Chancellor. Dr. R. Keith Hillkirk assumed this position in 2005. A bachelor’s degree in Information Sciences and Technology was added in the fall of that year.
Changes and growth continue throughout the campus. The multi-purpose building was renovated and enlarged in the summer of 2008 to provide additional meeting spaces, new offices for Student Services, and a remodeled fitness center and is now known as the Health and Wellness Center. The former Student Activities and Advising Center was remodeled in early 2009 and was renamed the Business and Academic Services Building. The campus purchased a parcel of adjoining land from the county and a fifth apartment building was constructed. The purchase also included the building that formerly housed the Schuylkill County Child Development Offices. The building was renovated in 2012 and dedicated as the Kiefer-Jones Building, named after two long-standing members of the campus Advisory Board. The building houses the Chancellor's office, Development, University Relations, and the Continuing Education departments. In addition, the campus appointed a new Chancellor, Dr. Kelly M. Austin.
Throughout its 80-year history, the campus has remained dedicated to its mission of bringing educational and cultural opportunities to the county. Penn State Schuylkill currently offers the first two years of over 160 bachelor’s degree programs, four associate degrees, five baccalaureate degrees, and four minors. More than thirty organizations and six varsity sports are available. Continuing education programs, Kid’s College summer camps, a varied program of cultural events, and service learning opportunities bring together students and community needs to continue to integrate the campus into the local community.