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Our Rich History: The Northern Extension Center was the start of something new and special

By Lois Hamill
Special to NKyTribune

The University of Kentucky, a public university, was founded in 1865 in Lexington, Kentucky. As early as 1946, it initiated some extension courses at the Trailways Bus Station in Covington. On July 1, 1948 the University of Kentucky (UK) officially established the Northern Extension Center to offer a limited two-year college program in Northern Kentucky.

Administrative offices and classrooms were rented in the Covington First District School, an elementary school at Sixth and Scott Streets. Extension Center students used the chemistry labs at Ft. Thomas and the physics labs at Holmes high schools while the Covington YMCA was used for student recreational and athletic activities. The program was developed to meet the educational needs of returning military veterans and to provide professional and general education for part-time undergraduates and graduates.

Covington campus circa 1976

Dr. W.C. Wesley began the 1948-49 year as Director of the Northern Extension Center, but Thomas L. Hankins replaced him before the year ended. Hankins stayed on to become the first and longtime director of the successor institution, Northern Community College. Being scattered across three different facilities wasn’t easy for administrators or students. UK began planning for its own permanent facility as early as 1958. A 40-acre site in Devou Park, Covington was selected. Mt. Allen Road was extended to connect Dixie Highway to the new UK Northern Center campus. On November 19, 1961, the new building and Covington campus were dedicated. US President John F. Kennedy sent Hankins a telegram which was read at the dedication ceremony. Student enrollment in 1960-61 was 500-550 per semester. Instate tuition was $125, while non-residents paid $310. The Northern Center had 8 staff and 26 full and part-time faculty. The library owned just over 3,300 books.

Between 1957 and 1960, UK created four additional extension centers. In November 1961, a state study on education recommended development of a statewide community college system. In 1962 the state legislature approved creation of the community college system, the addition of new colleges and the conversion of existing university facilities at the five extension centers to the use of the community college system. UK was delegated the task of managing the entire system. By 1964 UK began converting the extension centers to community colleges. The Northern Center became the UK Northern Community College (UKNCC), using its new name for the first time in 1964-65. UKNCC’s first graduation ceremony was held in 1966; twenty-eight students received associate’s degrees or certificates.

Gov. Nunn signs legislation establishing NKSC

In 1966 a Kentucky Council on Public Higher Education study recommended that one more public state college be established in Northern Kentucky because it lacked one, despite being the state’s second largest metropolitan region. In 1967 Louie B. Nunn was elected Governor. In return for support in his election, he advocated the establishment of Northern Kentucky State College (NKSC), signing the establishing legislation on March 14, 1968. In order for the UKNCC assets to be transferred to the new NKSC, the University of Kentucky, the Kentucky Council on Public Higher Education (now the Council on Postsecondary Education) and the state legislature all had to approve. This was completed by July 31, 1969.

Although the Covington campus was deeded to NKSC on June 20, 1969, UK continued to be responsible for conducting classes until NKSC took that over in July 1970. Dr. W. Frank Steely was hired as President in December 1969. Next, Dr. James C. Claypool was appointed Dean of Admissions, beginning his work on February 1, 1970.

The first NKSC classes were offered at the Covington campus during the summer session, which actually began in June 1970. Classes continued in Covington while a larger, more permanent site for the fledgling state college was created elsewhere. Classes began at the new Highland Heights campus for the fall 1972 semester.

Meanwhile, the Chase College of Law, formerly a Cincinnati evening law college housed at the YMCA, merged with NKSC effective June 1972. Chase moved into the Covington campus in the fall of 1972 after NKSC moved into the new Highland Heights campus. In 1974 the main Covington building was named Hankins Hall in honor of Hankins’ long service as director there. Chase moved to the Highland Heights campus in the spring of 1982 once the present campus had sufficiently expanded for the occupants of Nunn Hall to be able to move into other buildings.

Hankins Hall, 1990

After the departure of Chase, NKU continued to use the Covington campus for classes and offices until it closed in December 2008. Hankins Hall was demolished in February 2011. The library and other non-permanent structures had already been removed. The 38+ acre site has been prepared and is now available for purchase.

Lois Hamill, C.A. is University Archivist and Associate Professor at NKU. She directs the Eva G. Farris Special Collections and Schlachter University Archives there. Hamill is the author of Archives for the Lay Person: a Guide to Managing Cultural Collections, as well as Archival Arrangement and Description: Analog to Digital. She can be contacted at: 859-572-5863 or hamilll1@nku.edu. The archive’s website is here.

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