Introducing West Chester University

Quality education at a reasonable price... this is the goal of West Chester University, the largest of the 14 institutions of higher learning that compose the State System of Higher Education of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. A comprehensive and multipurpose university, West Chester serves individuals of all ages with a variety of programs to fill their educational needs.

West Chester offers degrees in the arts and sciences, teacher preparation and certification, advanced study preparation in fields such as medicine and law, education for specific professions, and continuing education. See page 62 for a complete listing of undergraduate degree programs.

Total enrollment at West Chester includes more than 13,700 undergraduate students and about 2,200 graduate students. While most undergraduates are recent high school graduates preparing for career objectives, many others are older individuals, including veterans and homemakers, who either never before had the opportunity for a college education or whose schooling was interrupted.

Most students are residents of Pennsylvania, but students from other states and foreign countries are welcome. West Chester's student body represents a cross section of many ethnic, racial, and religious groups and includes students from all economic levels.

Like the world around it, West Chester University is constantly changing and growing. The school continues to broaden and modify the nature and number of its programs to reflect the needs of its students in their endeavor to prepare themselves for success and fulfillment in life.

History of the University

Although its founding year is 1871, the University in fact has deeper roots tracing from West Chester Academy, a private, state-aided school that existed from 1812 to 1869. The academy enjoyed strong support from the highly intellectual Chester County Cabinet of the Natural Sciences of the pre-Civil War decades. It was recognized as one of Pennsylvania's leading preparatory schools, and its experience in teacher training laid the groundwork for the normal school years that were to follow.

As the state began to take increasing responsibility for public education, the academy was transformed into West Chester Normal School, still privately owned but state certified. The normal school admitted its first class, consisting of 160 students, on September 25, 1871. In 1913, West Chester became the first of the normal schools to be owned outright by the commonwealth.

West Chester became West Chester State Teachers College in 1927 when Pennsylvania initiated a four-year program of teacher education. In 1960, as the commonwealth paved the way for liberal arts programs in its college system, West Chester was renamed West Chester State College, and two years later introduced the liberal arts program that turned the one-time academy into a comprehensive college.

In recognition of the historic merit of the campus, in 1981 the West Chester State College Quadrangle Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The buildings included in this historic district are Philips Memorial Building, Ruby Jones Hall, Recitation Hall, and the Old Library. Except for Philips, these buildings are all constructed of native Chester County serpentine stone.

West Chester State achieved another major milestone with passage of the State System of Higher Education bill. West Chester became one of the 14 universities in the State System of Higher Education on July 1, 1983. Along with its new name - West Chester University of Pennsylvania of the State System of Higher Education - the institution acquired a new system of governance and the opportunity to expand its degree programs.

The Frederick Douglass Institute

The Frederick Douglass Institute at West Chester University is an academic program for advancing multicultural studies across the curriculum and for deepening the intellectual heritage of Frederick Douglass, the former slave, distinguished orator, journalist, author, and statesman. Douglass, who was a frequent visitor to the West Chester area, gave his last public lecture on West Chester's campus on February 1, 1895; an official historical marker has been placed to denote that location. Thirty years earlier, in October 1865, at the inauguration of a Baltimore, Maryland, institute named for him, Douglass said that the mission was "to be a dispenser of knowledge, a radiator of light. In a word, we dedicate this institution to virtue, temperance, truth, liberty, and justice."

At West Chester University, the Douglass Institute is primarily involved in four academic areas: 1) conducting research in multiculturalism and on Frederick Douglass; 2) sponsoring distinguished exhibits and lectures; 3) establishing opportunities for advanced study for public, private, and college-level teachers; and, finally, collaborating with historical societies and other educational and cultural agencies. West Chester University's Douglass Institute is recognized as the model for other Pennsylvania campuses and is called collectively the Frederick Douglass Institute of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

The activities of the institute take place on and off campus. With undergraduate and graduate students, and West Chester faculty, the institute sponsors seminars and forums on selected topics. The Anna Murray Douglass Circle is a lecture series offering a platform for today's leading intellectuals. Annually in October, the institute sponsors Douglass Days, a festival of educational activities on Douglass and multiculturalism that involves the entire campus and surrounding communities.

For further information, call the Frederick Douglass Institute at 610-436-2766, or e-mail The fax number is 610-436-2769.

The Frederick Douglass Society

Drawing its content from our campus history of social consciousness and its structure from a variety of models in public life, the Frederick Douglass Society of West Chester University is the organization of faculty and staff at West Chester who embrace Frederick Douglass' quest for freedom and inclusiveness. Named in 1983 for one of the 19th century's most distinguished advocates of human freedom, the organization is oriented toward self-help and improvement by offering a collective voice in the affairs of the University. Its programs also aim to stimulate other groups on campus to enrich our climate. The society annually raises money for scholarship funds. It also seeks, by the example of Douglass, to promote an intellectual standard that is not only grounded in excellence but profoundly rooted in the public mission of higher education.

Institute for Women

The Institute for Women was initially designated to serve as the parent organization to represent the interests of women on campus. The institute is an independent body headed by the director of the Women's Center. Along with the Commission on the Status of Women and the women's and gender studies program, the Institute for Women engages in campus activities for the benefit of women students, faculty, and staff.

The institute sponsors activities to enhance the self-esteem and career success of women at the University including the Graduate Grant, Endowed Book Funds, and support for campus programs. The institute prepares periodic reports on the status of women at the University and has also secured Charlotte W. Newcombe Scholarship Grants for mature or second-career women for more than 25 years. For more information contact Alicia Hahn-Murphy, director, at 610-436-2122.

Ethnic Studies Institute

In 1975 West Chester University established the Ethnic Studies Institute, a University-wide academic and cultural initiative to promote the appreciation of peoples and their diversity. Building on the success of early summer workshops in 1976 to today’s ongoing events, the institute continues to engage WCU’s multiethnic community in an open exchange of ideas regarding social-cultural categories.

Today, the institute continues to be a catalyst for introducing the University community and its broader Chester County public to various U.S. diverse communities and transnational populations as a means of preparing individuals for global participation. ESI does this through research, community services, education, advocacy, and cultural programming on diversity. ESI offers seminars, speakers, conferences, and other special events. It also contributes to the University’s commitment to fostering civility and the development of an inclusive and a safe environment where diversity is welcome.

The institute’s ethnic studies program offers the minor in ethnic studies which comprises six concentrations: African American, Asian American, Hispanic and Latino, Jewish American, Native American, and multiethnic populations. These concentrations provide an interdisciplinary academic curriculum that enables socio-cultural and philosophical understanding. The institute promotes respect and compassion for all racial and ethnically diverse peoples.

For more information about the Ethnic Studies Institute or the minor, contact Dr. Bonita Freeman-Witthoft, director, at (610-436-2725), or Dr. Frank J. Hoffman, associate director, at (610-436-2361).

Location of the University

West Chester University is in West Chester, a town that has been the seat of government in Chester County since 1786. With a population of about 20,000, the borough is small enough to have the pleasant aspects of a tree-shaded American town, large enough to contain essential services and the substance of a vigorous community, and old enough to give the student exposure to America's early history. Students can walk to West Chester's many churches. The town has excellent stores and a fine hospital.

West Chester was settled in the early 18th century, principally by members of the Society of Friends. In the heart of town is its courthouse, a classical revival building designed in the 1840s by Thomas U. Walter, one of the architects for the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

West Chester today is part of the rapidly growing suburban complex surrounding Philadelphia and offers interesting opportunities for the study of local, county, and regional government in a period of change and growth.

Philadelphia is 25 miles to the east and Wilmington 17 miles to the south, putting the libraries, museums, and other cultural and historical resources of both cities in easy reach. Valley Forge, the Brandywine Battlefield, Longwood Gardens, and other historical attractions are near West Chester. New York and Washington are easily accessible by car or train.

How to Reach West Chester

essed from all directions both by car and public transportation. Route 3, the West Chester Pike, leads directly into town from center-city Philadelphia. From the Pennsylvania Turnpike, motorists traveling west should take Route 202 south from the Valley Forge Interchange or the E-Z Pass-only exit (#320), while those traveling east can arrive via Route 100 south from the Downingtown Interchange. From the south, Route 202 from Wilmington and Routes 100 and 52 from U.S. Route 1 all lead to West Chester.

Public transportation is available from Philadelphia and other nearby communities.

Information on public transportation and carpooling is available in Sykes Student Union, 610-436-2984.