From its beginnings as Wyomissing Polytechnic Institute (WPI) to becoming part of the Penn State system in 1958, the Berks campus has experienced many changes. WPI occupied the original Sacred Heart Church building on Hill Road, where the McDonald's Restaurant now stands, from 1930 to 1958 when its facilities were offered to Penn State to establish Penn State Wyomissing Center, now Penn State Berks campus. It moved to its present Spring Township location in 1972. With the addition of the residence halls in 1990, Berks became a residential and commuter campus.
Student enrollment at Berks campus has increased steadily since 1972, when approximately 500 students attended. Today, there are 2,824 students enrolled.
Berks campus includes 15 buildings on 258 acres of land, and there are 109 full-time and 94 adjunct faculty members. Residence halls provide housing for 804 students. We celebrated our 50th anniversary in 2008. Several unique projects documented our history at this time. Read about our anniversary projects »
History of Penn State Berks
Penn State University and Berks County share a long and productive relationship, dating back to 1914, when the University first offered agricultural extension courses to county residents. As Berks County evolved, so did its relationship with the University.
Textile Machine Works
The roots of Penn State Berks are in the textile industry, which captured the imagination of two German entrepreneurs who moved to Berks County to start their own business. Ferdinand Thun and Henry Janssen opened Textile Machine Works (TMI) in Reading in 1892. As their business expanded and they opened Narrow Fabric Company and Berkshire Knitting Mills, Thun and Janssen found they needed trained workers, so they started an education program in 1927, called the Educational Department of Textile Machine Works. Penn State instructors helped facilitate the program, which began with sixteen young men in the basement of TMI. Soon, the school opened its doors to the community.
Wyomissing Polytechnic Institute
In 1933, the school was granted a state charter and renamed the Wyomissing Polytechnic Institute (WPI), officially considered the predecessor to Penn State Berks. That same year, Penn State announced that it would give two years' college credit to graduates of the WPI program.
Despite its excellent reputation and popularity within the community, graduating approximately 1,500 during its history, WPI closed its doors in 1958, a victim of the difficult economic times for the textile industry.
Since WPI and Penn State had a long and successful relationship, its founders offered the WPI buildings to Penn State for the establishment of an extension center. The University accepted the offer.
The Wyomissing Center of The Pennsylvania State University
The Wyomissing Center of The Pennsylvania State University opened on July 1, 1958, the fourteenth commonwealth campus in the University's growing system.
Dr. Harold W. Perkins was named director in 1959, and quickly began establishing connections with the community, forming of an advisory board, which was instrumental in helping the new center to achieve its goals.
By 1964, the school was renamed the Berks Center to reflect its widening service area, and by 1968, the first two years of nearly all University baccalaureate degrees were offered. As the school continued to grow in size and scope, it became apparent that it would need to move to a larger site.
Penn State Berks Campus
In 1972, the institution moved to a new 106-acre site in Spring Township, and was renamed Penn State Berks campus. The first campus structure, the Luerssen Building was built in 1972. It was followed by the Perkins Student Center in 1973, the Thun Library in 1975, and the Beaver Community Center in 1979.
Dr. Frederick H. Gaige succeeded Perkins in 1984. At this time, Penn State Berks had a student enrollment of 1,092 students. Under Gaige's leadership over the next sixteen years, enrollment grew to more than 2,000 students.
The campus continued to grow with construction of a classroom building, known today as the Franco Building. Expansion continued as the campus acquired a 110-acre farm in 1987, on which a greenhouse was constructed in 1990, as well as athletic fields and a stand-alone bookstore.
A major milestone was reached with the addition of student housing in the fall of 1990. The first phase housed 200 students, and the second phase housed an additional 200 students the following year.
Penn State Berks-Lehigh Valley College
Another major high point occurred in 1997, when Penn State University reorganized its campus structure, and as a result, Penn State Berks campus merged with Penn State Lehigh Valley campus to form Penn State Berks-Lehigh Valley College. This was significant because the new institution now had the authority to grant baccalaureate degrees.
During this time, Berks campus added a learning and technology addition to the library. An additional 400 beds were added in two phases in 1999 and 2000, bringing the total residential population to more than 800 students.
Gaige retired in 2001, and Dr. Susan Phillips Speece was named dean of the new college. With an impressive background in science, she brought an increased focus on technology and commitment to protect and preserve the environment to the college.
In 2003, the college was accepted as a provisional member of NCAA Division III, allowing students to participate in collegiate sports for all four year.
Penn State Berks College
Although the new college was successful, the University decided to reorganize again in 2005, and two-campus colleges, including Berks-Lehigh Valley, returned to being individual campuses. Penn State Berks retained its college status.
Today, Penn State Berks has a total enrollment of 2,824 students, and offers thirteen baccalaureate degrees, eight associate degrees, and a wide variety of Continuing Education programs. The campus includes 28 buildings on 258 acres, with residence halls providing housing for 804 students.
Our History in Video
Learn more about our history and view video interviews about our campus' development by watching our Penn State Berks History Videos »
Learn about Penn State's Land Grant Mission by watching the video The Legacy and the Promise: 150 Years of Land-Grant Universities »
Our History through Podcasts
Our former chancellor, Dr. Susan Phillips Speece, recorded a series of podcast interviews with people connected to Penn State Berks from 2006 - 2010. The podcast series documents history as it happened through this time period. Listen to podcasts »
- About Penn State Berks
- Campus and Beyond