Soon after she joined the Bucks County Community College Board of Trustees in 1996, Sellersville resident Betty Graver began traveling to Newtown for meetings. It didn’t take long for her to realize the nearly 30-mile trek on narrow, winding back roads likely discouraged many Upper Bucks students from enrolling in classes at the college.
For some, Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell or Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, even with their tuition bill twice that of Bucks, seemed like a more convenient alternative.
“We need to change this,” she thought at the time.
And that they did. At Graver’s insistence, the BCCC Board of Trustees agreed to consider locations for an Upper Bucks Campus. After looking at several locations, including storefronts along Route 309 and a contaminated property in Quakertown, the board settled on a former bank building overlooking an historic covered bridge in East Rockhill Township.
Three years after she joined the board, BCCC’s Upper Bucks Campus opened in a tiny portion of the sprawling 33,000-square foot former Core States Bank building. Nearly 100 students showed up for the first semester, with a handful of part-time faculty members teaching in makeshift classrooms fashioned from room dividers. What was being said on one classroom was easily heard in the other, Graver recalled.
Two decades after that humble beginning, Graver joined dozens of current and former BCCC officials, staff and students on a recent Thursday evening to celebrate the college’s 20th anniversary in Upper Bucks. Speaking in the community amphitheater that is a focal point of today’s 14-acre campus, Graver credited fellow board members Blake Eisenhart and Tom Skiffington for joining her in becoming vocal advocates for the Upper County campus. She also credited former Dean Bill Sherman for attending “countless ham dinners” while building community support for the project.
“The board worked diligently to do this with a lot of help from other people,” said Graver as she gazed across the campus. “And this is what happened.”
What happened was such incredible enrollment growth that within a few years, the Upper Bucks Campus was recognized nationally by Community College Week as the fastest-growing campus in the country.
In September, 700 students enrolled, and that doesn’t include the many workforce development and training programs the college offers.
Thanks to a $15 million, 28,000-square-foot expansion, and renovation of nearly 6,000 square feet of the existing building in 2010, the Upper Bucks Campus now boasts 19 lecture and seminar rooms, five state-of-the-art computer labs, a library, a library learning studio, an allied health lab, a multipurpose science lab, several small conference rooms, a student café and commons, faculty and advising offices, and the amphitheatre.
Rodney Altemose, executive director of the Upper Bucks Campus, called attention to the blue plaques that are affixed to the walls outside of classrooms, each one sponsored by a local individual or business.
“They have invested financially in students in this part of the county,” he said.
Today, students don’t ever have to leave Upper Bucks to complete all requirements leading to a degree in Business Administration, Communication Studies, Education, and Liberal Arts programs. Selected certificates, career and technical programs, the Licensed Practical Nursing program, and customized employee training programs for business and industry are now available to the local community as well.
At the heart of BCCC’s success in Upper Bucks, speakers said, is a talented and dedicated faculty committed to the community college experience. Student body President Evan Brooks, a Pennridge grad, described his professors as “amazing” so many times that he apologized to the audience.
“This was not just choice for convenience for me,” said Brooks, a sophomore Liberal Arts major from Perkasie. “Our professors are not just here to see students transfer to another university. They give every ounce of heart when it comes down to making sure have the best experience possible.”
In a bit of irony, Brooks was born in the same month the college opened in 1999.
“I’m glad I’m here as the college celebrates its 20th birthday, the same as I did in September,” he said. “I hope it outlasts me and I hope it continues to grow and attract students.”
Before the crowd retreated inside for celebratory food and drink, the college unveiled a new addition to its Sculpture Walk.
“Solar Column” by Spinnerstown artist Milan J. Kralik Jr., the stainless steel sculpture and two others on display for two years will “continue to enhance the artistic transformation of the college thus enhancing our experience for our students while also bringing visibility to Bucks in new and exciting ways,” said Sculpture Walk Curator Jennifer Garey.