History of Harper College
As early as 1950, discussion began about establishing a community college. An active
committee was at work on the project in 1961, and a community survey was done in 1962.
In 1964, an area community college committee studied the feasibility of establishing
a community college. The study committee’s report concluded with the recommendation
that “the citizens of the two high school districts…take appropriate steps to bring
the voters of the four townships the proposal that a community college be established.”
Early in 1966, the present 200-acre campus site in Palatine was selected, and the
College was named William Rainey Harper College, in honor of the first President of
the University of Chicago and the originator of the community college concept. In
the spring, district voters approved a bond referendum by a four-to-one margin.
In 1967, Harper’s first faculty members were hired, and classes for 1,725 students
were begun in temporary facilities in September. In the same year, the College broke
ground for the first six buildings on campus property.
The William Rainey Harper Educational Foundation was incorporated in 1973 to broaden
and enrich the College program through support of such projects as scholarships and
special project initiatives funded by private donations to the College.
In September 1975, a successful funding referendum was held that allowed the College
to proceed with the completion of the Palatine campus. Buildings G and H, housing
vocational technology shops and laboratories, were completed in 1977. The Board of
Trustees named an interim successor after the founding College President, Dr.Robert
Lahti, resigned. Harper’s second President, James McGrath, assumed the position the
In 1978, the College began a major effort to develop a new master plan in concert
with a comprehensive self-study effort. A referendum to increase operating revenue
failed to gain voter approval that year. This led to major budget cuts in an effort
to match expenditures with income.
By 1980, the campus had increased to 15 buildings with the opening of the physical
education, athletics, and recreation facility (Building M) and business, social science,
and vocational education housed in Buildings I and J.
In 1982, the College established a CAD/CAM training center in cooperation with high
technology firms in the area. The center was designed to provide instruction and resource
materials relating to computer-aided design and manufacturing.
In February 1985, district residents approved a tax rate increase for the operation
of the College. This was the first increase in tax support for the educational programs,
services, and operating expenses of Harper College since the College was established.
In 1988, the College hired its third President, Dr. Paul Thompson, after the retirement
of Dr. McGrath. The College began an extensive study in 1990 which led to the vision
statement “Our Preferred Future.” More than 1,000 College personnel and community
residents worked together to develop this document to serve as a Harper College planning
guide until the year 2000. In response to an emerging industry need, the Corporate
Services department, now called Harper College for Business, was established in 1991
as the College’s office of the first contact representing all programs of interest
to businesses and industry, including credit classes, continuing education, and customized
In 1992, a new Information Systems Division was formed. Harper developed a new technology
plan in 1994, following two years of extensive participation and input by administrators,
faculty, and staff. In 1993, the College opened Building S to house the Publications
and Communication Services Department. In spring 1994, the Liberal Arts building was
opened. Building L included the Liberal Arts Division office, classrooms, faculty
offices, and the College Bookstore. A studio (Black Box) theater and three-dimensional
art studios occupy the first floor of the facility. The two buildings were part of
a building phase that also included renovations to Building F which houses the Learning
Resources Center and the Academic Enrichment and Language Studies Division.
In 1994, the College purchased the Northeast Center (NEC). The Board of Trustees approved
the first and second phases of the Technology Plan in 1995 and 1996. The campus computer
network was completed in 1996, providing links between offices and classrooms and
as a resource to position Harper for higher education in the current century.
In 1997, Harper College received a 10-year re-accreditation from the North Central
Association’s Commission on Higher Education.
In 1998, Dr. Robert L. Breuder, the fourth President, was hired. The College implemented
a new shared governance structure and published its first comprehensive strategic
long-range plan (SLRP). Groundbreaking for the new Performing Arts Center (PAC) and
the Wojcik Conference Center was held on May 18, 2000. The new buildings were partially
funded by the Illinois Capital Development Board. In 2002, the conference center opened
and was named the Wojcik Conference Center in recognition of a $1.1 million member
initiative grant given to Harper by Illinois State Representative Kay Wojcik. At a
special Board meeting on August 16, 2000, the Trustees were presented with a comprehensive
long-range Campus Master Plan. The plan was intended to guide the College into the
future. On November 7, 2000, the Harper College district residents passed an $88.8
million referendum to build a new facility to house Harper’s growing science, technology,
and health care programs. Construction of Avanté began in fall 2001.
On August 29, 2001, Harper College purchased a new facility in Schaumburg for the
Technical Education and Consulting at Harper (TECH) program. The facility, now called
the Harper Professional Center (HPC), is the site for the new Fast Track degree option.
In 2004, Harper College served a total of 37,338 credit and noncredit students during
the summer, fall, and spring terms, making Harper one of the largest community colleges
in the country. In 2004, Harper College opened Avanté, Center for Science, Health
Careers, and Emerging Technologies. In 2005, Avanté was selected as a Merit Award
finalist by the Chicago Building Congress (CBC). The CBC praised Avanté for its distinctive
design and outstanding construction, and its positive impact on the surrounding community.
In 2006, Harper College received the National Science Foundation Undergraduate Research
In 2009, Dr.Kenneth Ender became Harper College’s fifth president.
In 2010, the College worked with community partners to develop a new five-year strategic
plan. The plan emphasizes increasing the number of students who graduate from Harper
with a degree or workforce certificate or transfer successfully to a four-year university.
The plan focuses on four strategic directions: Completion (increase completion and
achievement of all students with a focus on underperforming student groups), Accountability
(create a culture of innovation, accountability, and transparency), Partnerships (engage
in partnerships to develop programs in existing and emerging career areas that enable
students to succeed in a global economy) and Inspiration (develop programs with educational
partners that inspire postsecondary education and career readiness as a life goal.)
In 2011, the College approved a new Campus Master Plan. The plan outlines a comprehensive
ten-year program to renovate the campus to meet the needs of 21st-century teaching
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded Harper $12.9 million to expand the Advanced
Manufacturing program to community colleges across Illinois. The program offers industry-endorsed
skills certificates and paid internships with local manufacturers. It's also designed
to encourage younger students to consider a manufacturing career by offering college
credit to high school students.
In 2013, the College broke ground on $38 million in renovations of the Engineering
and Technology Center. The project includes a new state of the art classrooms for
career and technical programs and expanded facilities for Harper's innovative Advanced
Manufacturing Program. The College also broke ground on the $46 million renovations
of Building D which includes new lecture halls, general classrooms, and student study
and commons areas.
In 2014, the College relaunched the Northeast Center (NEC) in Prospect Heights as
the Harper College Learning and Career Center (LCC) with a target market focus on local community needs, credential programs, wrap-around
services, and workforce emphasis.
The College simultaneously launched the Education and Work Center (EWC) in Hanover Park, an unprecedented partnership with Elgin Community College, the Village of Hanover
Park, the State of Illinois, and The Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership. The EWC offers
adult education programs and a full-service Illinois WorkNet® Center for career support.
Harper College offers classes during the day and Elgin Community College offers evening
In 2015, the College launched the Harper College Promise Scholarship Program. The
program offers every eligible public high school freshman in Harper’s district the
opportunity to attend Harper for up to two years tuition-free if, during high school,
they maintain solid grades, have good attendance, don’t repeat classes, graduate on
time and perform community service. During its first year, more than 4,600 high school
freshmen in Harper’s district signed up for the program.
In 2016, the College received the prestigious Leah Meyer Austin Award from Achieving
the Dream. The award honors Harper’s outstanding achievement in creating an institutional
culture dedicated to supporting and increasing the success of all students. This year
also marked the implementation of the 2016-2019 Strategic Plan which focuses on increasing
levels of Inclusion, Engagement, and Achievement for our students. Five teams were
formed to develop strategies to improve: Academic Planning and Pathways, Curriculum
Instruction, Employee Skills, Stewardship, and Student Experience.
The College was awarded a $2.5 million American Apprenticeship Initiative grant by
the Department of Labor to support apprenticeships in the Insurance, Information Technology,
and Manufacturing sectors. The first cohort of 4,624 freshmen from district high schools
applied to the Harper Promise Program. The Outdoor Amphitheatre was completed and
served as the venue for the 2016 Commencement Ceremony and construction of the FMA
Manufacturing Lab, which houses high-tech metal fabrication equipment, was completed.
The year 2017 marked the beginning of the College’s yearlong 50th Anniversary celebration honoring its proud past, affirming its present mission and impact, and aspiring to
an even stronger future. This milestone event led to the publication of Harper College, the First 50 Years, a 200-page history of Harper written by Professor Emeritus Trygve Thoreson. As part
of the celebration, the College hosted its first-ever TEDx event and Harper’s Educational
Foundation’s 50th Anniversary Gala was the most successful to date, raising more than
In 2018, the College successfully completed the two-and-a-half-year rigorous reaccreditation
process that resulted in the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) reaffirming the College’s
accreditation through 2027-2028. Harper also completed the latest phase of its Campus
Master Plan with the renovation of two major buildings: The David K. Hill Family Library
and the Foglia Foundation Health and Recreation Center, which is a public-private
partnership with Palatine Park District and Northwest Community Healthcare.
In fall 2018, the members of District 512 endorsed the important role Harper plays
in the community by voting overwhelmingly in favor of a referendum question to support
the College’s campus master plan. The referendum, which passed with 61% of the vote,
provides $180 million toward capital improvements to help position Harper students
and the community for a strong future.
In 2019, the Board of Trustees voted to name the outdoor pavilion the Drs. Kenneth
and Catherine Ender Pavilion in recognition of their significant contributions to
the College and the Foundation over the previous decade. Dr. Ender stepped down on
June 30, 2019, after a decade of service in which he helped transform Harper into
a premier 21st-century community college.
In July 2019, Dr. Avis Proctor began her tenure as Harper’s sixth president. She is
the first woman and first African American to lead the institution. Dr. Proctor embarked
on a Year of Engagement to learn about the institution, find ways to leverage resources
and assets, and launch new initiatives.
In fall 2019, Harper College welcomed its inaugural cohort of 421 Promise Scholars
to campus. Dr. Proctor also launched several task forces and teams to address transportation
issues and students’ basic needs.
In 2020, Harper College continued to be recognized for its achievements by earning
two national awards: Achieving the Dream’s Leader College of Distinction status for
achieving new, higher student outcomes and narrowing equity gaps and the Andrew Heiskell
Award for Innovation in International Education.
Due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the College entered an unprecedented era and
closed its campus midway through the spring 2020 semester. Classes moved to a fully
online environment and support services continued in a virtual format. Throughout
the pandemic, the College organized a series of COVID vaccine clinics and awarded
more than $21 million in emergency financial grants from the federal Higher Education
Emergency Relief Fund; more than 18,000 awards were made to students.
The College launched its FY2021-24 Strategic Plan with the theme Forward Together,
the result of broad engagement in a community-based planning process. Included in
the plan is a collegewide goal to close equity gaps by 20% by 2024.
In 2021, the College created the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion led by
a vice president and supported by staff to assist the college in meeting its equity
goals. The Cultural Center opened in Building D. The College also received an $18
million gift, the largest in Harper’s history, from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott.
These funds were used to launch the Igniting Paths to Success Scholarship for more
than 1,600 students and provide grants to local nonprofits whose missions support
the advancement of equity, diversity and economic mobility for underserved and marginalized
communities. The Educational Foundation launched its $30 million Inspire Scholarship
In 2022, Harper was named to the 2023 Aspen Top 25 for Community College Excellence,
a recognition of the College’s commitment to student success and equitable outcomes.
To help remove transportation-related barriers and increase access to campus, the
College launched a series of transportation pilots including a new bus route, ride-share
and bike share program.
The College established new Institutional Effectiveness Measures (IEMs) focused on
leading and lagging student success measures and aligned with the college's SOAR framework
(Search, Onboard, Advance, Realize). The College also grew its apprenticeship program
through partnerships with multiple Chicago-area hospital systems.
In spring 2023, Harper was recertified as an Achieving the Dream Leader College of
Distinction, which recognizes the College’s commitment to growing a student-centered
culture that champions the success of every Harper student.