History of the College

Brockport Collegiate Institution

An overview of The College at Brockport's story. For an indepth look at its history see the documents and photographs in the Rose Archives site on the Digital Commons.

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Brockport Collegiate Institute, 1835-1866

In 1835 village leaders partnered with a Baptist group to build an institution of higher learning. This "academy," or "collegiate institute," was a common institution at the time. Public schooling ended with the 8th grade, and there were no high schools. Colleges were very few in number, and generally did not admit women or minorities.

Academies were a transitional form, that included elements of the modern high school, prep school, and college, but were a unique form all their own. Brockport's academy flourished academically, but like many such institutions often struggled financially.

In the Civil War era Malcolm MacVicar, the principal, was a visionary educator who saw the need for better education for teachers in New York and he led a campaign to get the state to establish a system of "Normal" schools across the state. The effort was a success, and in 1867 the Brockport Collegiate Institute became one of the new Normal schools.

vintage grad photo

Brockport State Normal School, 1866-1942

The academies had conducted teacher training classes but on a limited basis. Normal schools were part of a revolution in education taking place in 19th-century America, in which the need for teachers to receive training, and especially in teaching methods in addition to subject knowledge was becoming better recognized and supported. Teacher training was officially the sole purpose of the Normal school. although the old academy tradition was continued in a separate department until the turn of the century.

One key element of the teacher training philosophy of that era was to maintain a "practice" or "demonstration" school attached to the Normal School. Students for the school came from the local community and were taught by student teachers who worked under experienced teacher "critics."

Charles McLean was the principal for the first several deca des of the school and helped to establish one of the major elements of the Normal School's culture, that of the Greek Letter Societies which flourished at the school from 1869-1940.


Brockport State to SUNY Brockport, 1942-2004

In the early 1940s, Ernest Hartwell and other educatiors campaigned successfully to get the state to upgrade the state Normal schools to Teachers colleges. (The Normal schools had a 3 year course, after which you received a license to teach school, not a bachelors degree.) The first Teachers college class graduated in 1942 with their bachelor degrees.

Brockport State Teachers College became part of the new SUNY system which was established in 1948.

The years after World War II were a time of tremendous growth for higher education, as thousands of veterans went to college on the G.I. Bill. Brockport began a period of expansion in that time that was unprecedented in the school's history.

When Donald Tower became president of the school in 1944, the entire campus was what we now call Hartwell Hall. There were a few hundred students and the faculty and staff numbered under 50 people. The sole purpose of the school was to train elementary school teachers. By the time he retired in 1964 there were several thousand students and several hundred faculty and staff members. The campus had expanded greatly, adding residence halls and a college union, and expanding across Kenyon Street and down Holley Street.

The purpose and organization of the College had also grown, as it evolved into a liberal arts college with a number of master's degree programs. The first graduate degree was awarded in January of 1950. By 1981, there were 1,185 graduate students enrolled in 11 different programs. Today, Brockport has more than 1,400 graduate students enrolled in 29 programs.

In the early years of President Albert Brown (1965-1981), the school's growth rate peaked, seeing the high-rise residence halls, library and other buildings rise up to make the campus that one sees today. The school continued to evolve in the last years of the 20th century under the leadership of President John Van De Wetering (1981-1997), who launched the MetroCenter, Brockport's classroom complex in downtown Rochester. During his tenure, Brockport's international education program greatly expanded to become the largest in the SUNY system and among the 10 largest in the US.

From 1997 to 2004, under the leadership of Paul Yu, Brockport achieved new levels of excellence and recognition, from acquiring the latest information technologies to improving campus communications to increasing admissions standards. Brockport became recognized throughout New York and within the SUNY system as an innovative and dynamic institution.

Brockport Townhomes

The College at Brockport, State University of New York, 2005-Present

In August 2005, John R. Halstead, PhD, became Brockport's sixth president. Beginning early in his tenure, he developed relationships with numerous government, corporate, and community leaders to increase Brockport's visibility in the region, and formed partnerships to further promote student success. President Halstead oversaw exciting new construction projects, including the townhome complex for upperclassmen; the state-of-the-art Special Events Recreation Center (the SERC), which opened in fall 2012; and, the Liberal Arts Building, which opened in fall 2014.

In July 2015, Heidi R. Macpherson, PhD, began her tenure as the seventh president of the College. She is Brockport's first female president. President Macpherson led the effort in developing "Building a Better Brockport: The College's Strategic Plan, 2017-2022".

Last Updated 1/30/18

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