Campus History

The 2023-2024 academic year marks the 65th year of higher education in Ashtabula County. Kent State University at Ashtabula has grown from humble beginnings in an old junior high building into a thriving modern learning environment not only across 80 sprawling acres, but reaching across the globe. Yet, the campus remains focused on providing high quality opportunities for education and enrichment to the Ashtabula community.

In 1957, a group of concerned citizens from Ashtabula County came together to discuss how to ensure economic vitality within their community. Those community leaders decided it was important to establish an accredited university program in the county. Thanks to their efforts, Kent State University at Ashtabula was established in 1958 as the Ashtabula Center of Kent State University, employing three full-time faculty members, offering 79 courses, and housing 253 students in an unused junior high school building in the center of the city.  The campus’ first dean was Dr. Roger T. Beitler who served until 1963.

The school quickly began to outgrow the Park Avenue Junior High building. In 1963, 81 acres of land overlooking Lake Erie was donated by local entrepreneur Oliver C. Topky, and Dean Paul A. Reichert started his service to the campus. Built at a cost of $1 million, the campus’ groundbreaking took place in 1965 with the construction of Main Hall, and classes began there in the fall of 1967. The Library building and the Technology (now Bookstore) building were added in 1972.

In 1985, Dr. John K. Mahan became dean of the campus and served until 1995. Dr. Gary C. Ensign began his tenure as dean in 1995 and served until 2001, when the University's longest-tenured full-time dean, Dr. Susan J. Stocker, began her appointment. Dean Stocker retired in July of 2022 following over 30 years of service to the University including 21 leading the Ashtabula Campus through some of its most noticeable changes and growth. R. William (Bill) Ayres IV, Ph.D., dean and chief administrative officer of the Trumbull Campus, was appointed interim dean following Stocker's retirement and was named the Ashtabula Campus's sixth full-time dean in spring of 2024.    

Just over 50 years from those opening days, the campus surpassed 2,000 students enrolled yearly and opened the state-of-the-art Robert S. Morrison Health & Science Building (now Robert S. Morrison Hall) in 2009 ushering in the newest technology and learning resources for the campus’ allied health degree programs. In 2014, several student services offices in Main Hall were consolidated into a Student Services Suite that houses Admissions, Academic Advising, and Financial Aid and provides one-stop assistance for students. As part of that project, a student lounge was also added, and the Commons was updated with new furniture, décor and dining services. The campus’s master plan continues to guide updates and improvements to best serve students and the local community.  Included in this plan were the two most recent - and arguably the most dramatic - updates with a new central drive and grand entrance to campus and the renovation of the Main Hall Auditorium which turned an outdated venue into a state of-the-art classroom and lecture hall. Another milestone was marked in fall of 2023 with the renaming of the building representing the heart of campus, Main Hall, as Susan J. Stocker Hall.   

Since its founding, thousands of students have graduated from the Kent State Ashtabula campus, and tens of thousands of community members have enjoyed free concerts, guest lectures, and have taken non-credit courses for personal enrichment.

The campus continues to touch community life as many of the area’s organizations and boards have assembled in one of our meeting rooms, and degree programs, such as hospitality management and the wine degrees, have impacted the county’s economy.