Harper College is named after William Rainey Harper, the first president of the University
of Chicago and widely regarded as the father of the two-year college movement.
Harper opened its doors to students on September 13, 1967.
Harper has conferred a total of 86,369 degrees and certificates. While 114 students
made up Harper's first class of graduates, Harper conferred more than 3,500 transfer,
career and technical degrees and certificates in 2017 alone.
Each year, Harper awards $23 million in scholarships, grants and tuition waivers.
When Harper opened in 1967, tuition was $8 per semester hour - or about $240 annually
for a full-time student
Harper has always been home to a mix of recent high school graduates and adult students;
the average age of a Harper student taking credit classes was 25 years old in both
1975 and in 2016.
During its first two years, Harper held classes at Elk Grove and Forest View high
schools. The brand new campus opened on the site of the old Tri-Color Stables and
Biddle farm in September 1969 with six buildings: A (administration and student center),
B (power plant), C (art and architecture), D (math, social studies, dental studies
and nursing), E (lecture facility) and F (learning resources, library, liberal arts).
A local newspaper (what would become the Daily Herald) held a "name the junior college"
contest. The leading candidate was the Adlai E. Stevenson Junior College after the
recently deceased United Nations ambassador, Illinois native son and two-time presidential
nominee. Other runners-up included Paddock Junior College after local newspaper chain
founder Hosea C. Paddock, Shabbona after a Pottawatomi tribe that previously inhabited
the area, and Euclid after the famed Greek mathematician and street that would eventually
border the north side of campus. Also receiving a handful of votes was Elkspaw after
a combination of Elk Grove, Schaumburg, Palatine and Wheeling Townships.
What would become The Harbinger held a semester-long contest in fall 1967 inviting
students to weigh in on a school mascot and colors. Suggested names included the Eagles,
Jets, Hounds, Hornets and Hawks. Just two - the alliterative Hounds and Hawks - made
the final cut. In the end, the Hawks and the colors of maroon and gold won out. In
2006, blue and silver were adopted as Harper's new colors.
Harper boasts 445 All Americans and 22 national championships.
Harper has hosted thousands of events. One of the most unusual came in 1996 when Building
M was transformed into a bowling alley for the Brunswick World Tournament of Champions.
The competition, which was televised by ABC Sports, featured the top five Pro Bowling
Association players in front of nearly 4,000 spectators.
Nine Harper students have been awarded the Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer
Scholarship, the most prestigious in the nation for community college students transferring
to four-year institutions. The scholarship provides up to $40,000 a year for students
to complete their bachelor's degree.
Harper's Child Learning Center has served the community for the last 30 years to the
tune of more than 2,400 preschool alumni. Many went on to attend Harper, and some
ended up working as student aides with their former preschool teachers.
The Dental Hygiene Clinic, which consists of 18 dental hygiene stations with state-of-the-art
technology, X-ray and sterilization rooms, averages 1,500 to 2,000 visits each year.
More than 1,400 graduates have gone through the program. In the early years, students
remember pulling construction workers from around campus into the clinic to have their
teeth cleaned so they could meet their quota.
Over the last five years, the Wellness and Sports Center (Building M) has welcomed
an estimated 735,000 visitors to various events running the gamut from muskie and
craft shows to job fairs and the Latino Summit.
Harper's 200-plus full-time faculty members have collectively served more than 3,000
years. Of those, 64 have doctorates (Ph.D., Ed.D and J.D.)
In 1969, Harper second-year student Larry Moats, then 21, won a seat on the Board
of Trustees, unseating a University of Chicago-trained nuclear physicist who had worked
on the Manhattan Project. He served until 1975 and again from 1987 to 1996. Moats,
a businessman, was selected to the 2011 class of Distinguished Alumni, named the 2017
recipient of the James McGrath Award and remains active in the Educational Foundation.
The average Harper graduate will earn an additional $591,000 compared to someone who
hasn't completed an Illinois community college program, according to The Center for
Governmental Studies at Northern Illinois University's 2014 economic impact report.
In 2015, the White House awarded Harper College a grant to support apprenticeships
that integrate coursework with on-the-job training. Apprentices graduate college debt-free
with years’ worth of work experience under their belt and a guaranteed job. Apprenticeships
are currently offered in general insurance, CNC precision machining, industrial maintenance
mechanic and logistics/supply chain management.
Building at 1200 W. Algonquin Road in Palatine wasn't the Board of Trustees' first
choice. Barrington had yet to join Harper's district, so some trustees didn't consider
Palatine to be central enough. They first pushed for Rathje Farm near Golf and Meacham
roads in Schaumburg, but Schaumburg Mayor Robert Atcher wanted the land used for commercial
development and launched a massive campaign against the college. Trustees also looked
at the Ned Brown Forest Preserve (Busse Woods), but residents wanted to keep the area
Authors, poets and writers to speak on campus include Studs Terkel, Maya Angelou,
Gwendolyn Brooks, Joseph Heller, Mike Royko, Dr. Benjamin Spock, Tom Wolfe, James
Dickey, Frederik Pohl, Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury, Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka and
About half of district high school graduates enroll at Harper prior to or within one
year of high school graduation. That includes the nearly 30% of public high school
students who take courses through Harper's dual credit program, which allows them
to take college-level courses at their high school and simultaneously earn both high
school and college credit. Many students even graduate high school with a certificate
or a full semester of college already complete.
Nearly 70% of full-time, degree-seeking students graduate, transfer or continue to
enroll at Harper after three years.
The Career Skills Institute launched in 2012 for students with mild intellectual disabilities
to strengthen basic academic and employability skills. More than 60 students have
interned with departments around campus and gone on to get jobs at UPS, Mariano’s
and other companies.
Harper has 23 buildings and two satellite campuses totaling 1.65 million square feet
of building space on nearly 200 acres of land. There are also 5,463 parking spaces.
Harper has 300 "smart rooms," about 4,000 computers, 143,000 student email accounts
and total storage capacity of 240 terabytes.
Since the Harper College Educational Foundation was established in 1973, it has raised
$30.4 million. That includes three different $1 million gifts and support from more
than 9,000 individual donors.
In the last three years alone, the Small Business Development Center at Harper College
advised 846 small businesses, helped to create or retain 552 jobs, helped start 85
companies and assisted with $8.2 million in small business capital.
Each year, Harper's Access and Disability Services office serves more than 1,350 students
with disabilities while the Deaf Institute serves more than 50 deaf, deaf-blind and hard
of hearing students. ADS provides a range of academic accommodations and services from
sign language interpreters and captionists to assistive technology.
Comedians and TV personalities to visit Harper include Cheech and Chong, Steve Martin,
Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, Monty Python performer Graham Chapman, Yakov Smirnoff,
Jay Leno, Jim Belushi, Richard Lewis, Oprah Winfrey, Jerry Seinfeld, Adam West, Jeff
Garlin, Rita Rudner, Louie Anderson, Paula Poundstone, Bill Maher and Jon Stewart.
Harper’s manufacturing program has partnered with about 170 area companies that offer
apprenticeships, paid internships, financial support and expertise. The program has
received about $2 million in funding and donated equipment from its partner companies
including a laser cutter, robotic welding cell and CNC machines. Harper also was selected
as home of the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association Metal Fabrication Lab, a
state-of-the-art training facility for metal fabrication and welding.
Enrollment soared way beyond expectations in the early years. College officials thought
it would take until 1970 to draw 1,700 students. By fall 1968, enrollment had already
more than doubled that projection to 3,735 students. In fall 1971, enrollment stood
at nearly 9,100 students. Today, Harper serves more than 35,000 credit and non-credit
One of Harper's earliest groups was the Faculty Wives Club, which underscored the
common assumption that the business of the college would be conducted primarily by
men. The group disbanded in the mid-1970s. Today, 51% of faculty (and 61% of administrators)
The horse barn from the original Tri-Color Stables was a fixture on Harper's campus
in the early days. Data processing classes were held before the horses were relocated,
and students couldn't walk barefoot on campus for fear of tetanus from the horses.
The barn was converted into an athletic fieldhouse and later destroyed in a fire in
The Rita and John Canning Women's Program serves an average of 450 people each year
through a variety of educational, life skills and career planning services. Founded
in 1970, the program continues to thrive despite state funding cuts leading to other
women's programs throughout Illinois to close.
Harper's theater department has put on more than 90 different plays from "American
Buffalo" to "The Zoo Story." Before the Performing Arts Center was built, performances
were held in J Theatre, which was intended for lectures, not plays. Since it lacks
an adequate backstage area, actors had to dash around outside and re-enter through
a backdoor alcove, which was particularly fun for the casts during winter performances.
In March 1992, thousands of people came to campus to view a 480-panel section of the
NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, created as a memorial to those who have died of
AIDS and to help people understanding the disease's devastating impact. Harper added
its own panel to the quilt filled with signatures of students, community members and
other supporters. Among the visitors over the two days was actor Bill Murray.
Musicians to perform at Harper include John Denver, Ted Nugent, Harry Chapin, Duke
Ellington, Steve Goodman, Muddy Waters, Journey, Jose Feliciano, Chubby Checker, Survivor,
Buddy Rich, Violent Femmes, Richard Marx, Buddy Guy, Branford and Wynton Marsalis,
Gin Blossoms, Patty Loveless, Wilco, Chuck D of Public Enemy, Max Weinberg, Darryl
McDaniels of Run-D.M.C., Aimee Mann and Poi Dog Pondering.
Former special services administrator Liz McKay once drew attention to the need for
greater accessibility throughout campus by putting several administrators and faculty
in wheelchairs for a day.
The Karl G. Henize Observatory on campus welcomes more than 1,000 visitors annually.
Helping them stargaze are several high school docents, who last year alone put in
nearly 500 hours of volunteer work.
There have been several efforts to change Harper's custom of using letters to identify
buildings, and all have had minimal success. Various presidents and task forces have
explored naming buildings after prominent people and businesses in the community or
the academic subjects housed there. Those initiatives mostly faded, however, demonstrating
the alphabet's mystical hold over building nomenclature at Harper. A few buildings
buck the trend including Avanté, which means going forward - the same as Harper's
The Harper College Educational Foundation Art Collection consists of more than 360 original works of painting, printmaking, drawing, photography
and sculpture valued at $2.5 million. It features the work of many nationally and
internationally known artists including "The Bather," which was designed by Pablo
Picasso and fabricated by Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar.
Harper's Speech and Debate team has won three national championships in the community
college division at the Pi Kappa Delta National Comprehensive Tournament. The team
has had 60 individual goal medalists/national champions and more than 100 national
Over the last 30 years, nearly 12,000 Harper students have been inducted into Phi
Theta Kappa, the national honors society for two-year colleges.
Last year alone, 5,000 students between fourth and eighth grades visited campus to
learn about college life and career opportunities through Harper's campus tour program.
Another 1,100 students and parents attended the annual College and Career Expo, which
features dozens of fun, educational and interactive activities to inspire families
to prepare earlier for higher education.
A fire destroyed Harper's fieldhouse (the one remaining remnant of the old horse stables)
on June 9, 1973, destroying classrooms, offices, physical education equipment and
locker rooms. To keep programming going, Harper held wrestling matches at Hoffman
Estates High School, football games at Fremd and basketball games at Sacred Heart
of Mary High School in Rolling Meadows and St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights.
Harper's current athletic teams have similar partners today with the College's health
and recreation facility (Building M) undergoing a renovation in partnership with Palatine
Park District and Northwest Community Healthcare.
More than 26,000 campers have gone through Harper's InZone summer enrichment and sports
camps for students 8 to 14 years old. InZone has offered 725 courses covering activities
from 3D printing, coding and robot building to documentary filmmaking, leadership
development and cooking competitions.
Harper has two satellite campuses: the Harper Professional Center in Schaumburg and
the Learning and Career Center in Prospect Heights. The HPC houses the Small Business
Development Center, the motorcycle safety program, Workforce Certification Center
and Fast Track, which is a part-time, accelerated program designed for busy adults.
The LCC offers a variety of short certificate programs and provides the Prospect Heights
and Wheeling areas with convenient access to computers, a library and other services.
The Harper Promise Scholarship was launched in 2015 to provide every student attending
a public high school in Districts 211, 214 and 220 the opportunity to earn two years
of tuition at Harper. Promise Scholars must maintain solid grades, have good attendance,
not repeat classes, graduate on time and provide service to their community. More
than 10,000 high school freshmen enrolled in Promise over the first two years.
When President Barack Obama issued a challenge to community colleges in 2009 to produce
an additional 5 million graduates by the year 2020, Harper determined its share would
be an additional 10,604 degrees and certificates (on top of the projected 20,000-plus
credentials forecast by the trajectory at the time). Harper surpassed the 10,604 goal
in May 2017 – three years ahead of schedule.