RACC's Creation and Early Years
In 1963, Pennsylvania passed legislation authorizing the development of a statewide system of comprehensive community colleges. The legislation states that community colleges should be locally controlled, responsive to the educational and training needs of the areas they serve, geographically accessible to students and have low tuition.
In September of 1970, the Board of Directors of the Reading School District voted to act as, sponsor of a community college and authorized that an application and proposed plan for establishing and operating the new institution be submitted to the Pennsylvania State Board of Education. At its January 15, 1971 meeting, the State Board of Education approved the application permitting the Reading School District to sponsor Reading Area Community College. The sponsor appointed an eleven-member Board of Trustees whose responsibility was to bring the college into existence and supervise its administration. Classes were held for the first time on October 13, 1971, with an enrollment of 265 students.
Initially students attended classes at many locations throughout Reading. In 1977, the college purchased the former Holiday Inn at Second and Penn Street. After extensive renovations to the building, administrative offices and credit programs were moved to the present riverfront campus in the fall of 1978.
Campus Grows, Berks County Becomes College Sponsor
By the fall of 1988, enrolled credit students numbered 1640 and more space was needed. RACC purchased 10 acres of land between its campus and the Schuylkill River that was used primarily for parking. In June of 1989, the East Shore Office Building, now named Penn Hall, was purchased to serve the growing student body that expanded to 3,231 credit students by the fall of 1994.
Approximately 12,000 non-credit students are also served each year. Classes are conducted at Boyertown, Exeter, Hamburg, Muhlenberg, Reading and Wilson High Schools, the Reading-Muhlenberg Vocational Technical School in Berks County and at several other community sites.
As the college grew, the resources of a single sponsoring school district became inadequate to sustain the required expansion. The majority of students lived in Berks County, outside of the Reading School District. The Berks County Board of Commissioners took the initiative to study the need for a broader base of financial support for RACC. In February of 1990, the commissioners appointed a fifteen-member Citizen Task Force to study the sponsorship issue. In their report presented to the commissioners on September 13, 1990, they stated, “The current situation, where one school district acts as sponsor, is unique in Pennsylvania, is contrary to economic development trends over the life span of the community college, and is clearly untenable in today’s economic climate.” In conclusion, they stated “there is a compelling case for sole sponsorship (of the college) by the county government and the required financial commitment by the county would be reasonable, cost effective and not overly burdensome to the taxpayers.” At the October 4, 1990 meeting of the Berks County Board of Commissioners, they voted unanimously to sponsor Reading Area Community College effective July 1, 1991.
The Yocum Library
In 1992, Reading Area Community College launched its first capital campaign to secure private funds for a new library. The campaign goal of $1,750,000 was exceeded and $2,739,000 was raised for the project. Those gifts enabled the college to go beyond the original basic facility and include additional educational equipment and laboratories. With the matching funds provided by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a $7.54 million library was constructed.
The Yocum Library, overlooking the Schuylkill River, opened in March of 1996. It includes conference rooms and a humanities center. This distinctive addition to the Reading skyline serves as the landmark building that marks the gateway to the city.
Campus Improvements & Changing of the Guard
Penn Hall, formerly the East Shore Office Building, was totally renovated in 1995. It houses the Division of Health Professions and Business Division classrooms and laboratories. Its state of the art classrooms and computer equipment prepare students to succeed in the automated workplace.
The Student Union Building had been a Zieger & Sons Florists facility. It was opened in the fall of 1996. Currently the bookstore, student government and newspaper offices, a wellness center and a student lounge are located there.
Berks Hall, the original campus building, was remodeled in 1996.The finished project incorporates landscaped pathways, lighting and outdoor lounge areas that transformed Reading Area Community College into an attractive, city-based campus.
In late 1996, the college purchased a 2.4-acre tract of land between the Penn Street Bridge and the Front and Washington Streets parking garage from the City of Reading for a future building project. Also in 1996, the Reading Area Community College celebrated its 25th Anniversary.
In the fall of 2002, RACC enrolled a record 3,800 credit students. The year also marked the retirement of the president of 17 years, Dr. Gust Zogas. The Board of Trustees named Dr. Richard Kratz, former vice president/dean of academic affairs, the fourth president of RACC. The College also hired its first director of information technology to carry out a 3-year plan to update computer and phone systems.
Evolution of Community Education and Workforce Development Programs
In 2005 the continuing education department, now known as the division of Workforce and Economic Development/Community Education, centralized in Schuylkill Hall, which previously bordered the campus as part of the Penske Corporation. The non-credit arm of the College had been housed in several locations throughout the city and county, so the centralization was intended to provide efficiency and convenience for its students.
In the spring of 2006, the Schmidt Training and Technology Center (TTC) celebrated its grand opening. The project was funded by the College's second successful capital campaign with the intent of providing training for area business in advanced manufacturing skills, information technology, market knowledge, executive senior leadership, business performance and workforce readiness.
Miller Center for the Arts & Gateway Building Newest Additions to RACC
The year of 2006 also brought major change to the campus. In addition to the opening of the TTC, the College began construction on the Miller Center for the Arts, a 500-seat theatre, which officially opened in June of 2007. The Yocum Library celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2007 and the College began transitioning from a 10-week term system to a 15-week semester system.
In June of 2007, the College welcomed Dr. Anna D.Weitz as its fifth president. She was officially installed at an October Inauguration ceremony that was preceded by a weekend of celebratory activities.
In August of 2008, the College officially began a 15-week semester system and also that fall adopted a new Mission statement.
Students interested in Career Training Programs received a new place to call home in the fall of 2010 when RACC opened its Gateway Center for Career Training at 201 Penn Street. The Gateway Center houses non-credit certificate programs in Business Occupational Training and Medical Occupational Training that can lead to career opportunities in as little as six weeks to six months.
College Celebrates 40th Anniversary
The College celebrated its 40th anniversary as the Community's College on Sept. 21, 2011 with a program and reception honoring its community partners. The celebration featured comments and proclamations from the Berks County Board of Commissioners, local and state officials and current and past members of RACC’s Board of Trustees. All marveled at the College’s growth and success. RACC officially turned 40 on October 13, which is the first day classes were held in 1971.