Tuesday, February 21, 2017

History of Ohio University’s regional campus system highlighted in Alden Library Founders Day Exhibit

OHIO celebrated Founder's Day this year by focusing on the Regional Campuses in the system. The opening reception was held yesterday at Alden Library on the main campus and featured a beautiful display of all the regional campuses' history throughout the years. OUC's own Brandi Weaver, director of the Quinn Library, curated the exhibit, which payed homage to our storied history in Chillicothe.

Courtesy Story Ohio University's Bill Kimok


When, in 1946, Ohio University opened its first three branch campuses in Chillicothe, Portsmouth, and Zanesville, the institution already had plenty of practice in offering classes for academic credit outside of its main campus in Athens. As early as 1909, Ohio University faculty members were traveling to Jackson, Pomeroy, and Nelsonville to teach University-sanctioned and accredited college-level courses. The 1913 OHIO bulletin reported that the number of enrollees in such "extension courses" around the Southeast Ohio region totaled 164 students.

By the late 1930s, with the addition of correspondence courses, the popularity of higher education opportunities offered by OHIO beyond its main campus was such that the extension division had a director and an office in the East Wing (Wilson Hall) on the Athens Campus. Meanwhile, the regional demand alone for Ohio University courses necessitated the opening of so-called “centers” of education in Portsmouth and Zanesville which, in cooperation with the school boards in those cities, offered evening college courses to “recent graduates of high schools who do not find it possible to go away” to take college classes. By 1940, the Zanesville Center was enrolling 70 such students while 136 students enrolled in OHIO courses at the Portsmouth Center.

So, as World War II ended and young men returned home from the military to their Southeastern Ohio roots, Ohio University already had a history and a blueprint for giving those men—who had earned the opportunity of the so-called “G.I. Bill”—and others in the region access to higher education within their communities. In September 1946, OHIO's branch program was officially begun in Chillicothe, Portsmouth, and Zanesville. The University’s catalog proclaimed that "all students regularly enrolled in the branches are considered to be ‘regular’ students of Ohio University and receive full residence credit for all successfully completed courses.” Late afternoon and early evening classes were held in the classrooms, laboratories, and gymnasiums of local high schools, and, while veterans were encouraged to attend classes at the branches, non-veterans were admitted as well. By the second semester of the 1946-47 academic year, Portsmouth had enrolled 361 students, while Chillicothe and Zanesville had enrolled 255 and 198 students respectively.

It was not originally Ohio University’s intention to make the branches a permanent fixture of University concern. But even as enrollment declined temporarily in the early 1950s during the Korean conflict, the branch system had attained such prominence in the communities that it served that OHIO vowed it would continue to “make every effort to offer limited educational opportunities in the three cities.” Moreover, by the mid-1950s, the demand for a quality higher education in Southeast Ohio led to the establishment of three new branches in Lancaster and Ironton in 1956, and in Martins Ferry in Belmont County in 1957.

Eventually, one way or another, throughout the 1960s and 1970s, land was afforded for the constructing of actual campuses in all six OHIO branch communities. Despite Portsmouth’s withdrawal from the branch system in 1975 when it merged with a local technical college to become Shawnee State, the remaining five branches—or, as they later became known, “regional campuses”—have expanded and thrived throughout the past decades.

Today, more than 6,900 students are enrolled at the five regional campuses—Eastern (Belmont County), Chillicothe, Ironton, Lancaster, and Zanesville, and two so-called “satellite” campuses at Pickerington and Proctorville. More than 250 majors are available at the regional campuses to students who are on their way toward earning one of 15 associate’s degrees and 18 bachelor’s degrees. During the 2015-16 academic year, more than 1,400 degrees were earned by students attending the regional campuses.

Thus, a program that was begun more than 70 years ago as a temporary solution to deliver higher education to communities in Southeast Ohio which included hundreds of returning veterans in the 1940s has impacted the lives and circumstances of several generations of Southeastern Ohio individuals and their families. It is estimated that the economic impact of the regional campuses alone today is at $141.2 million.

We therefore celebrate Ohio University’s 2017 Founders Day in this exhibit space by commemorating the founding and the history of our regional campuses and some of the people—directors, instructors, and students—who helped to make them what they are today.

Each year, the Ohio University community celebrates Founders Day by reflecting on the journey of Ohio’s first institution of higher education. February 18, 2017, marks 213 years since the Ohio General Assembly approved charter plans for the creation of Ohio University.

The University has a long and rich history of serving students across Southeast Ohio, dating back to the early 1900s when faculty traveled to local communities to teach college-level courses. Since then, Ohio University’s regional campuses and centers have enriched generations of nontraditional and lifelong learners.

In recognition of the role the regional campuses have played in Ohio University’s history and to commemorate this year’s Founders Day, a special exhibit is now on display on the fifth floor of Alden Library that includes historic and current photos from each regional campus. In collaboration with the librarians at each regional campus, the exhibit highlights the defining features of each OHIO campus and is available for viewing during regular Library hours through Friday, April 21.
In his own words, Bill Kimok, University archivist and records manager, tells the story of OHIO’s regional campuses and the role they have played in providing opportunities to access higher education for many Southeast Ohioans.

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