Behrend Academics: Growth By Degrees

The faculty members who taught the first year at the Behrend Center in 1948 could probably never have imagined a major by the name of Functional Data Analytics. It’s also likely they could never have conceived of an online platform like World Campus, where that new Behrend major launched this past fall ahead of being offered as a residential program.

Those early teachers can, of course, be forgiven for not seeing into the future—for not envisioning the massive changes in business and industry, technology, and society in general that would influence academic programming at Penn State Behrend over the next seventy-five years.

What they did bring, though, was a focus on preparing students for success, on growing the college, and on meeting the needs of the community at the time. That focus has carried through the decades, shaping today’s academic portfolio of 100+ majors, minors, and certificates.

“From the history of Penn State Behrend over the past seventy-five years, you get a strong sense of the intentionality with which new programs have been developed,” said Dr. Greg Filbeck, interim vice chancellor and associate dean for academic affairs at Behrend. “There’s a record of our introducing programs expected to have enduring value in the marketplace and society.”

In the early days of the Behrend Center, all students began their studies in Erie, then transferred to State College to complete their degrees. Today, nearly seventy-five percent of students start and finish their University degrees at Penn State Behrend. From twelve subjects taught that first year, the college’s online course schedule now lists just over 670 courses, covering more than 100 subjects.

The first degrees to be offered at the Behrend Center—electrical engineering technology and drafting and design technology— came in the early 1950s in response to market demands for associate engineers; upon graduation, those engineers were heavily recruited by companies across the country. Within a few years’ time, other associate degrees were offered in business, nursing, the liberal arts, and mechanical engineering.

In 1971, Behrend became the first location outside University Park to develop bachelor’s degree programs and confer degrees locally. The first four-year degrees were in science and general arts and sciences, which encompassed the humanities, fine arts, social sciences, and natural sciences. In 1973, the Behrend Center was granted four-year and graduate degree status, becoming The Behrend College.

“So it happens that we are celebrating two milestones this academic year,” Filbeck said, “both our 75th anniversary of becoming a Penn State campus and our 50th anniversary of becoming an academic college of the university.”

By the early 1980s, with enrollment approaching 2,000 students, Behrend offered nearly twenty associate and bachelor’s degrees. The roster included several degrees that continue to the present, such as Accounting, Economics, English, History, and Political Science. Others would be introduced over the next twenty years or so in response to industry trends, technological advances, changes in employee skill sets, and globalization, among other factors. This would include new majors in Computer Engineering, Management Information Systems, Marketing, and Plastics Engineering Technology.

Behrend’s plastics program is the classic example of a major that grew out of an identified need. In the 1980s, a consortium of regional plastics manufacturers, led by company owners Joe Prischak and Paul C. “Hoop” Roche, approached the college about establishing a four-year degree in plastics. Together, they contributed more than $4 million to launch the program and fund construction in the early 1990s of the buildings to be known as the Engineering Complex (now known as the Science Complex).

The complex was the third major building project to occur on campus in the 1990s, following an academic building known today as Kochel Center and John M. Lilley Library. The growth in infrastructure was necessary to support enrollment that would surpass 3,200 as the year 2000 approached. By 2003, Behrend had nearly thirty-five undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Today, Penn State Behrend offers nearly 50 undergraduate and graduate degrees to students enrolled on campus and online through World Campus. That includes eleven Penn State degrees offered only by Behrend, including Creative Writing; Digital Media, Arts, and Technology; Interdisciplinary Business with Engineering Studies; Interdisciplinary Science and Business; and a highly popular Master of Project Management degree offered exclusively online.

The academic roadmap ahead calls for continuous assessment and refinement of existing programs; exploring new programs that demonstrate high labor demand; a focus on interdisciplinary offerings, which Filbeck describes as a strength of the college; and collaborating on the delivery of coursework through platforms such as the University’s Digital Learning Cooperative.

“Maintaining a strong academic portfolio is a defining feature of Penn State Behrend,” Filbeck said. “For the future, as in the past, that will require constantly evaluating and evolving to meet the educational needs of the times.”


The Behrend Center opens with 146 students taught by twelve faculty members. The first to register is Dorothy Holmstrom, an engineering student from Pittsburgh. 


Behrend begins offering two associate degrees—in Electrical Engineering Technology and Drafting and Design Technology—that can be completed at the campus. 


Otto Behrend Science Building opens, allowing for expanded science and engineering curricula. Enrollment is just over 300 students. 


The Behrend Center becomes The Behrend College, the first—and, for twenty-four years, the only—four-year academic college of Penn State located outside University Park.


The college offers fourteen bachelor’s degrees, including a number still offered today such as Accounting, Economics, English, History, and Math. Enrollment stands at 1,850 students.


Enrollment surpasses 3,200 students with recently constructed academic and library facilities to accommodate the growth.


More than 4,000 students are enrolled on campus and online. The college offers more than thirty-five undergraduate and graduate degree programs and access to hundreds of other Penn State degrees.


The college’s academic roadmap focuses on continuously assessing existing programs, exploring new in-demand programs, and emphasizing interdisciplinary programs and alternative delivery platforms.