Taking classes in a barn. Seems a little old fashioned, doesn’t it?
Well, not only is it happening locally, but it’s actually a part of Edinboro University, serving as the main building for Porreco College. The branch campus offers a variety of associates degrees, certificates and other programs in hopes of sending students directly into the local job market.
However, Porreco College wasn’t always a college at all. In fact, it was a farm, and the barn that students take classes in used to be where cows were tended to.
In March 1986, Lou Porreco, a local business man, gifted about 22 acres of his land with 11 buildings in Millcreek Township, to Edinboro University, according to Roy Strausbaugh’s “Edinboro University 1963-1993, An Administrative History.”
The land was valued at more than $1.5 million at the time. The land was to be used for educational purposes.
“That’s what Lou Porreco wanted when he made the gift,” Janet Bowker, director of operations at Porreco College said. “He wanted to be able to offer education…He valued that and valued a good education at a reasonable cost, as well, and he felt that Edinboro could provide that better than the private schools.”
Foster Diebold, president of Edinboro University at the time, visited the land the same day he met with Porreco, as he “recognized the potential for the property to support the university’s efforts to serve the greater Erie community,” according to Strausbaugh.
His aunt, Mary Porreco, had taught him the importance of education. Porreco was a teacher in Erie and an alumna of Edinboro University. She had raised Lou Porreco, and the “profound and positive influence” in his life resulted in the dedication of the main house on the extension campus, the Mary Porreco Hall, according to Strausbaugh.
Lou Porreco first acquired the land at an auction. Previously, the land was owned by Adrian Archbold and his wife. According to the “The Archbold Collection, 1838-1978,” Archbold was the grandson of John Dustin Archbold, an oil tycoon in the Standard Oil Company who knew John D. Rockefeller.
The land was up for auction, when Porreco bought it. Another of the bidders at the auction was a real estate developer, and Porreco wanted the land to be maintained.
“He didn’t want to see it turn into more apartments,” Bowker said, “so he decided to buy it.”
He lived there for years, raising his kids. He brought in caretakers to tend to the property.
In fact, those caretakers lived in the “Caretaker’s House,” which had kept its name, but been put to a different use now, providing offices instead of living quarters.
When he gifted the land, besides his request that it be used for educational purposes, he only asked that the property be well kept.
“He didn’t want to see a lot of new buildings or dormitories,” Bowker said. “President Diebold absolutely agreed with that, and the rest is history.”
Instead, Porreco “renovates” and “transforms” the buildings to fit its needs, according to Bowker. Thus far, she says that it works well. There are always on-going discussion about future plans for the college.
“The second floor of the barn has not been renovated yet,” Bowker said, “so there’s been discussion for a number of years now.”
As Porreco expands, the university must decide what to use the space for: classrooms, offices, or something else.
When the branch campus began offering classes in fall 1987, it was with small sizes and few classes. The first classes largely included general education courses that any student from Edinboro University’s main campus could take.
Today, Porreco College is able to offer about 30 to 40 classes per semester and even offers summer classes as well.
While it isn’t a community college, they would like it to become known as the “community’s college” instead.
“Erie doesn’t have a community college and we aren’t a community college,” Bowker said. “But we’ve branded and marketed ourselves as the ‘community’s college’ because the pricing structure we are offering is similar to a community college.”
The tuition at Porreco is the same as it is on main campus, and when students graduate, their diploma will likewise read “Edinboro University.” The difference is in the services offered. Since Porreco doesn’t have all the same services, it doesn’t charge its students for them, lowering the cost of education.
Porreco wanted to make education affordable, so in addition to his gift of the extension campus, he went one step further with the “Porreco Promise.”
“Porreco pledged a million dollar endowment that would allow us to help students with their costs here,” Bowker said.
Once students file their FAFSA and receive state and federal funds, the Porreco Promise covers up to $1,500 per semester for Erie county residents in one of the Porreco College majors. The student can then receive the money for up to five semesters by maintaining a 2.5 GPA.
Porreco died in May 2015 after a battle with cancer, but “this property will forever bear his name,” Bowker said.
Tracy Geibel is the Campus Life Editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org