Ohio University

skip to main content
Founders Day 2017

Additional Historic Insights

A Brief History of Ohio University's Regional Campus System

Long before Ohio University (OHIO) opened its first three branch campuses in Chillicothe, Portsmouth, and Zanesville, the institution had plenty of practice in offering classes for academic credit outside of its main campus in Athens. As early as 1909, OHIO faculty members were traveling to Jackson, Pomeroy, and Nelsonville to teach University-sanctioned and accredited college-level courses. The 1913 Ohio University 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 the University 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. During 1940, the first year of the centers, the Zanesville Center enrolled 70 such students while 136 students enrolled in OHIO courses at the Portsmouth Center.

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 advantage of the so-called “G.I. Bill”—and others in the region access to higher education within their communities. In September 1946, the University’s branch program was officially begun in Chillicothe, Portsmouth, and Zanesville. The University’s catalog proclaimed, “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 the local high schools, and, while veterans were encouraged to attend classes at the branches, nonveterans 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 the University vowed that 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 University 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 over 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. Over 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 baccalaureate degrees. Indeed, in 2015–2016, more than 1,400 degrees were earned by students attending OHIO’s regional campuses.

Thus, a program that was begun over 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 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.

- Bill Kimok

  • Founded in 1946, as the first regional campus in the state, Ohio University Chillicothe Campus is located on a 100-acre campus 45 miles south of Columbus. During the Chillicothe Campus’s first 15 years, only evening classes were offered in a Chillicothe high school building. In 1961, as demand for courses increased, daytime classes were offered at the First Presbyterian Church. Five years later, Bennett Hall opened as the first campus building, followed in 1974 by the first campus library—the Burton E. Stevenson Learning Resources Center. The Myrl Shoemaker Convocation Center, a physical education complex, opened in 1981, and, in 1998, a Technical Studies Building, housing technological facilities and the Southern Ohio Police Training Institute, was dedicated. More recently constructed was the Ross County/Ohio University-Chillicothe Child Development and Family Service Center. All of these improvements have guaranteed that today OHIO’s Chillicothe Campus provides students in the community with the academic foundations of a university education as well as career-oriented professional and technical programs.

  • In September 1957, Ohio University Eastern Campus (known then as the Martins Ferry or Belmont County Branch) began holding classes in the Martins Ferry High School. Its success led to the construction and opening of Wilson Shannon Hall in St. Clairsville in 1967. Today the Eastern Campus provides a total educational experience in liberal arts and the sciences. The campus offers the Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees, and all of the coursework for the following baccalaureate programs: applied management, communication studies, criminal justice, early and middle childhood education, exercise physiology, health services administration, history, social work, specialized studies, sport and lifestyle studies, and technical and applied studies. In addition to academics, the campus provides access to the arts through its art gallery and theater program. The Health and Physical Education Building was added in October 1997 as a venue for the men’s and women’s basketball and women’s volleyball teams, as well as a gym for student and community use.

  • In September 1956, Ohio University began offering evening courses in what is now known as the Stanberry Freshman School on Mulberry Street in Lancaster. Additional facilities were rented throughout the Fairfield County community, with main administrative offices being housed in Lancaster High School. John T. Brasee Hall, named for a 19th-century Lancaster attorney and Ohio University graduate, opened in 1968. In 1976, Herrold Hall opened; named after Gordon Herrold, whose ancestors furnished the lumber for Cutler Hall on the Athens Campus. Today Brasee and Herrold Halls house classrooms, laboratories, faculty offices, a library, art studios, an art gallery, a gymnasium, a theater, an exercise room, a dance studio, a student lounge, and a bookstore. Two rescued and restored covered bridges adorn the campus. After offering college classes at the Pickerington high school for approximately 20 years, Ohio University Lancaster Campus established OHIO’s Pickerington Center in northern Fairfield County in 2000.

  • The Ohio University Ironton Branch, operating out of the old Ironton High School building, opened its doors in 1956 and began providing quality higher education opportunities to those whose commitments to jobs and families required them to remain in their communities while attending school. Today, Ohio University Southern Campus comprises four locations in Lawrence and Scioto counties that serve approximately 2,100 students each semester. The Southern Campus in Ironton consists of four academic buildings surrounding a central courtyard and featuring an on-site television studio and educational channel, an Internet-radio station, distance-learning rooms, computer labs, fully equipped nursing and science labs, an art lab, a café, and a bookstore. In addition to the Ironton location, OHIO’s Southern Campus serves students at three other locations: a satellite educational facility in Proctorville, the 184-acre Ohio Horse Park in Franklin Furnace, and the Ohio University Southern Child Development Center in Hanging Rock, operated in partnership with the Lawrence County Community Action Organization.

  • Founded in 1939 as an adult education center offering Ohio University courses, Ohio University Zanesville Campus was officially established as one of OHIO’s first three branch campuses in 1946, beginning a tradition of providing local residents with the education of a major research university while maintaining the individualized attention associated with a small, liberal arts college. The first Ohio University classes offered in Zanesville were evening classes taught in Lash High School, and then in Zanesville High School in 1954. The Zanesville Campus’s first building, Elson Hall, was named after Henry William Elson, a Muskingum County historian who taught classes at Ohio University during the early 1900s. Over the years, College Hall, Health Science Hall, Littick Hall Gymnasium, Herrold Hall, the campus library, and Campus Center became facilities that are shared between Ohio University Zanesville Campus and Zane State College. The Muskingum Recreation Center, a collaborative venture with local agencies, is also part of OHIO’s Zanesville complex.