Pennsylvania State University was established in February 1855 under the name Farmer's High School of Pennsylvania. In 1863 the school claimed its status as a land grant college, changing its name to the Agricultural College of Pennsylvania. When the school tried to focus on agricultural studies only, its enrollment fell to 65 graduates in 1875. When George W. Atherton held the post of the president of the school, the curriculum was broadened to include engineering studies, liberal arts and biological science. Since 1882 the school has become one of the most significant schools in the United States. In the years that followed, it grew and evolved, attracting more students and acquiring an enrollment of 5,000 students in 1936.
The year 1953 began a completely new chapter for the university, marked by rapid development and tripled enrollment. The school's name was changed to Pennsylvania State University by its president Milton Eisenhower. By changing its status to a state related institution, the university became the member of the Commonwealth System of Higher Education. It is currently the largest in Pennsylvania and its donations reach $1 billion annually, which places it among the top ten U.S. universities.
University Park is a flagship of the university's campuses. With its 35,000 undergraduate students and 6000 graduate students it is regarded as the most selective campus of Pennsylvania State University. University Park is home to 3000 international students and 5000 students of minority ethnicity. 19 Commonwealth Campuses are operated throughout the state, some of which offer degree programs while others offer only introductory courses. One of the most prominent campuses is Penn State Great Valley School of Graduate Professional Studies, which offers continuing education as well as Master's certification. The programs of the university range from architecture, economics and engineering to business and sciences.
Pennsylvania State University ranks twelfth in the nation with regards to its investment in research programs. Out of 80,000 students; over 10,000 are enrolled in the graduate school. Since its foundation, the university has granted over 70,000 degrees to its graduates.
Beginning with 1500 books and periodicals, the Penn State University Library system has expanded to include nearly 5 million volumes, 500,000 maps, 160,000 films and videos and is considered to be today one of the largest among research libraries of North America.
Pennsylvania State University was also the first to award graduate degrees in agriculture and industrial engineering, and offer undergraduate study in American Literature. But its most important accomplishment was the introduction of a graduate program for developing leadership skills of Native Americans. The university's fund raising programs include the Penn State Dance Marathon, which raises millions of dollars for Pennsylvania Cancer Center. Many similar programs and events were inspired at other universities nationwide.
In 2004 the university celebrated its 150th anniversary.