About Pennsylvania State University-Penn State Main Campus
Penn State is a multicampus public research university that educates students from Pennsylvania, the nation and the world, and improves the well being and health of individuals and communities through integrated programs of teaching, research, and service.
Our instructional mission includes undergraduate, graduate, professional, and continuing education offered through both resident instruction and online delivery. Our educational programs are enriched by the cutting edge knowledge, diversity, and creativity of our faculty, students, and staff.
Our research, scholarship, and creative activity promote human and economic development, global understanding, and progress in professional practice through the expansion of knowledge and its applications in the natural and applied sciences, social sciences, arts, humanities, and the professions.
As Pennsylvania's land-grant university, we provide unparalleled access and public service to support the citizens of the Commonwealth. We engage in collaborative activities with industrial, educational, and agricultural partners here and abroad to generate, disseminate, integrate, and apply knowledge that is valuable to society.
Penn State, founded in 1855 as an agricultural college, admitted its first class in 1859. The Pennsylvania legislature designated Penn State as the Commonwealth’s sole land-grant institution in 1863, which eventually broadened the University’s mission to include teaching, research, and public service in many academic disciplines. Penn State has awarded more than a half-million degrees, and has been Pennsylvania’s largest source of baccalaureate degrees at least since the 1930s. Although the University is privately chartered by the Commonwealth, it was from the outset considered an “instrumentality of the state,” that is, it carries out many of the functions of a public institution and promotes the general welfare of the citizenry. The Governor and other representatives of the Commonwealth have held seats on Penn State’s Board of Trustees since the University’s founding, and the legislature has made regular appropriations in support of the University’s mission since 1887.
Today Penn State is one of four “state-related” universities (along with the University of Pittsburgh, Temple University, and Lincoln University), institutions that are not state-owned and -operated but that have the character of public universities and receive substantial state appropriations. With its administrative and research hub at the University Park campus, Penn State has 23 additional locations across Pennsylvania. While some of these locations, such as the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, have specialized academic roles, they all adhere to a common overall mission and set of core values and strategic goals.
From agricultural college to world-class learning community -- the story of The Pennsylvania State University is one of an expanding mission of teaching, research, and public service. But that mission was not so grandly conceived in 1855, when the Commonwealth chartered the school at the request of the Pennsylvania State Agricultural Society. The goal was to apply scientific principles to farming, a radical departure from the traditional curriculum grounded in mathematics, rhetoric, and classical languages.
Centre County became the site of the new college in response to a gift of 200 acres from agriculturist and ironmaster James Irvin of Bellefonte. President Evan Pugh drew on the scientific education he had received in Europe to plan a broader curriculum combining classical studies with practical applications. Pugh and similar visionaries in other states won federal support for their ideas in 1862, when Congress passed the Morrill Land-Grant Act. The act enabled states to sell federal land, invest the proceeds, and use the income to support colleges "where the leading object shall be, without excluding scientific and classical studies… to teach agriculture and the mechanic arts [engineering]… in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in all the pursuits and professions of life."
In 1863 the Agricultural College of Pennsylvania became the Commonwealth’s sole land-grant institution. But Pugh died the following year, and the concept of land-grant education was so novel that over the next twenty years, his successors failed to define it. As the curriculum drifted between the purely agricultural and the classical, public confidence fell; only 64 undergraduates were enrolled in 1875.
In 1882 George W. Atherton, a vigorous proponent of land-grant education, became president of what had then become The Pennsylvania State College. He introduced engineering studies, and Penn State soon became one of the nation’s ten largest undergraduate engineering schools. He broadened the liberal arts, and Professor of English Fred Pattee taught the nation’s first course in American literature (heretofore considered an unworthy stepchild of English literature). Atherton founded the Agricultural Experiment Station as a center for scientific research, and helped to draft the Hatch Act that gave annual federal support to such stations nationwide -- thus setting the precedent of Congressional support for academic research. Impressed with Atherton’s improvements, the state legislature authorized regular appropriations to the college beginning in 1887.
From Atherton’s death in 1906 to mid-century, Penn State focused on undergraduate education and extension. Enrollment surpassed 5,000 in 1936, by which time the college had become the Commonwealth’s largest source of baccalaureate degrees. Also in the 1930s, the administration of President Ralph Hetzel fashioned a series of branch campuses throughout Pennsylvania for students who, because of Depression-era economics, could not afford to leave home to attend college. The centers offered the first year or two of undergraduate studies and were the predecessors of today’s system of 24 Penn State campuses located throughout the Commonwealth (with the University Park campus remaining the administrative hub).
Extension work was primarily agricultural. Penn State pioneered in correspondence courses, disseminating scientific knowledge to farmers eager to find more efficient ways of growing crops and raising livestock. The college also worked with local and federal governments to implement a statewide system of agricultural and home economics agents who advised on issues as diverse as family life, nutrition, and food preservation. By the 1930s, Penn State had also launched outreach programs in the liberal arts, engineering, and the sciences.
Although research -- the third element of Penn State’s tripartite mission -- developed more slowly, Penn State by 1950 had won distinction for investigations in dairy science, building insulation, diesel engines, and other specialized fields. To show that the institution had come of age, President Milton Eisenhower changed its name in 1953 to The Pennsylvania State University and established a campus post office designated University Park.
Research thrived under Eisenhower’s successor, engineer and scientist Dr. Eric Walker, who headed Penn State from 1956 to 1970. "Space race," "brain drain," and other catch phrases reflected intense national concern for education, and public funds were plentiful. The physical plant tripled in value, and hundreds of acres of farm and forest land were added to give the central campus room to grow (land now occupied, for example, by the Blue Golf Course, the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel, and the Russell Larson Agricultural Research Center at Rock Springs.) Total enrollment at all locations climbed from 14,000 to 40,000 during the Walker years. The Hershey Medical Center -- a college of medicine and teaching hospital -- was established in 1967 with a $50 million gift from the charitable trusts of chocolate magnate Milton S. Hershey.
Penn State has continued to respond to Pennsylvania’s changing economic and social needs. In 1989 the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport became an affiliate of the University. In 1997, Penn State and the Dickinson School of Law joined ranks. And Penn State’s new World Campus, which "graduated" its first students in 2000, uses the Internet and other new technologies to offer instruction on an "anywhere, anytime" basis.
To help meet the increasing demands placed on it, Penn State has looked to philanthropy for additional resources. President Bryce Jordan in 1984 launched a six-year effort that raised $352 million in private gifts to the University. This initiative enabled Penn State to attract world-class teachers and researchers, and assist thousands of financially needy and academically talented students. The Grand Destiny campaign (1996-2003) raised $1.37 billion, further strengthening academic programs and broadening the University's service to the Commonwealth and beyond.