OIL CITY, Pa. – PennWest Venango Campus will be no more if the PASSHE’s Board of Governors and the Pennsylvania Legislature approve the transfer of the Venango County campus to the Oil Regional Alliance of Business, Industry and Tourism (ORA), it was announced Monday, Jan. 22.
“(The approval) would allow for the conveyance of the Venango property to the ORA,” an email from R. Lorraine Bernotsky, Interim President of PennWest to the campus community, said. “The ORA, which manages the Oil Region National Heritage Area, would use the site to further its mission of heritage preservation, economic development, recreation, tourism and arts revitalization.”
Currently, PennWest’s Venango Campus offers one program, an associate degree in nursing, which would move to PennWest Clarion beginning in the fall of 2024 pending approval from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the accrediting body for PennWest.
Faculty members who have taught at the Venango campus will continue to have the opportunity to teach courses and supervise clinical experiences appropriate to their discipline, and staff at the site will offered positions at other PennWest locations, according to the email.
“Academic Affairs leadership will work with the faculty and Human Resources with the staff on an individual basis,” the email said.
Students in their second year will finish their degree at Venango and graduate in May. First-year students will transition to the Clarion campus.
“The Clarion campus has state-of-the-art simulation labs, and students will have access to a greater number of elective courses and extracurricular opportunities,” the email said.
According to the email, enrollment at Venango has declined from 450 students in fall 2001 to under 100 in fall 2023.
“We expect to realize approximately $1.3 million in annual savings, as well as forego more than $6 million in necessary maintenance on the site,” the email from Bernotsky said, “This is a difficult, but important, step in our continued work toward financial stability for PennWest.
I want to acknowledge the more than 60 years that staff and students have made Venango an important part of Clarion. Community leaders, elected officials and philanthropic partners in the region have played important roles in the campus, and we will work closely with them through the transition.”
The Venango Campus, originally a branch campus of Clarion State College and later Clarion University opened in the fall of 1961 with 131 students, according to the history of the campus found on the old Clarion University website. It was the first branch campus that was approved for a college and university that is currently in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.
The first academic year, 1961-72, saw 132 students enrolled with students taking classes in the Oiul City Trust Building. The first building completed on the Venango campus was Richard C. Frame Hall, then known as the Venango Campus Building. in January 1962.
The first graduating class saw 63 students in it and graduated on May 26, 1963.