College History

College History

First classSince it opened its doors in 1948, Penn State Behrend has grown from 146 students on a former farm estate into a thriving academic institution with more than 4,700 students, 50 buildings, and 33,000 alumni.

The Penn State Behrend campus was donated to the University in 1948 by Mary Behrend in memory of her husband, Ernst, co-founder (with his father and brother) of the Hammermill Paper Company, later acquired by International Paper. In donating her family's Glenhill Farm estate to Penn State, Mrs. Behrend was responding to the need, expressed by a committee of prominent Erie residents, for a public, co-educational, non-sectarian university presence in Erie.

The first students to enroll at what was then known as The Behrend Center could complete only their freshman year at the center. When Penn State reorganized in 1959, the Commonwealth campus system was established and The Behrend Center became the Behrend campus of Penn State. Both the enrollments and the physical expanse of the campus grew throughout the 1960s and early 1970s and, by 1971, more than 1,200 students were enrolled.

On January 20, 1973, the Penn State Board of Trustees granted four-year college and graduate status to Penn State Behrend, making it the first Penn State location outside of University Park to achieve such status. Today, the college is a dynamic and growing institution, and in recent years has added a number of impressive facilities, including a $10.2 million athletics and recreation center, chapel and carillon, observatory, three residence halls, Knowledge Park at Penn State Erie, and a baseball and softball complex. The $30 million Jack Burke Research and Economic Development Center, formerly known as the Research and Economic Development Center, which houses the Black School of Business and the School of Engineering, opened in 2006. 

The college is now led by Dr. Ralph Ford, chancellor, named to the position in January 2016. 

For a detailed history, read the Historical Timeline, or make an appointment to view the Behrend Family Collection, housed at Lilley Library.