Skip to content
Cornell University School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions

History

A brief history of the School of Continuing Education

July 7, 1876

The earliest references to summer study at Cornell University are found in The Cornell Era of 1876. It notes that Cornell offers summer schools in botany, chemistry, drawing, entomology, geology, and zoology, to take advantage of the season’s natural outdoor classrooms and to serve elementary and secondary school teachers who wish to further their education while their schools are not in session. The zoology school that year is taught by W. S. Barnard ("Protozoa, Worms, Radiates, Mollusks, and Molluscoids"), J. H. Comstock ("Insects and Crustacea"), and Elliott Coues ("Birds"). These summer schools are the first step toward establishing the Cornell University Summer Session.

July 7, 1877

The first of what will become Cornell University Summer Session's off-campus programs is offered by Professor J. H. Comstock. The Aquatic Summer School takes students by steamer through the Great Lakes, studying the "Geology, Zoology, and Botany of the region," attending lectures "illustrated by the stereopticon," and collecting specimens. The Cornell Era notes that the purpose of the expedition, which is hoped not to exceed $125 for thirty days’ study, is "to do some good work in the direction of scientific instruction and investigation." It states, "Nature supplies the material, the instructors are to furnish enthusiasm and experience, the progress of the pupils will depend upon individual zeal and ability."

March 29, 1892

Having offered summer courses for the previous 16 years, the Executive Committee of the Cornell University Board of Trustees approves "the scheme for summer courses of study at Cornell." This action marks the formal establishment of Cornell University Summer Session, known in its early history by names including Summer Courses, the Summer Term, the Summer School, and Summer Session. Described by Cornell President Jacob Gould Schurman in his 1892 report to trustees as an "integral part of the university," Cornell’s Summer Session is one of the first such official summer programs in the United States.

July 7, 1892

Although summer courses had been offered at Cornell University since 1876, the first formal Summer Session at Cornell begins on July 7, 1892. Some 115 students attend courses in botany, chemistry, classical archeology, drawing and art, English, entomology, French, German, Greek, Latin, math, philosophy, physics, and physical training. The 1892 summer catalog states:

"Without excluding others qualified to take up the work, these courses are offered for the special benefit of teachers. They afford a practical scheme of University extension, by which the teachers themselves will be taught under university instructors, by university methods, and with access to university libraries, museums, and laboratories."

"The courses are open to women as well as to men, and the same facilities for work will be extended to these students as to the regular students of the university..."

"The city of Ithaca is easy of access, is delightfully situated in the beautiful lake country of central New York, and with its lakes, hills, and glens is an attractive place of summer residence..."

February 23, 1898

Dr. Charles DeGarmo, the former president of Swarthmore College, joins Cornell as a "Professor of the Science and Art of Education." He is later appointed the first dean of the faculty of the Summer Session and presides over the 1899 Summer Session, which enrolls 423 students. In his 1898–99 report to Cornell President Jacob Gould Schurman, Dean DeGarmo states, "… Summer Session performs an important service, first to individuals, then to the cause of education, and finally to the University itself… While extending their scholarship somewhat, they attain new ideas, form new ideals, become imbued with new enthusiasms, and acquire fresh courage for the future." DeGarmo serves until 1906.

November 8, 1898

Anna Botsford Comstock is named assistant professor of nature study in the Summer School in the fall of 1898, making her the first woman to hold a professorial rank at Cornell. The following summer (1899), Comstock teaches insect life in the Summer Nature Study School created by her and Liberty Hyde Bailey. The program focuses on lectures, laboratory work, and field work in the areas of insect, plant, and farm life. "It is the purpose of the course to teach both the acts and the methods of serious Nature-study," states the Summer Session course description of 1898-99, "with particular reference to fitting teachers to take up the work in their own schools. The vicinity of Ithaca is rich in animal and plant life and in entertaining scenery." The opposition of the trustees to Comstock's appointment, however, is so great that, at the end of the summer, she is demoted to the rank of lecturer. Comstock finally achieves full professorship in 1920 and continues to teach in the Summer Session until only nine days before her death in August 1930.

1906

George Prentice Bristol, a professor of Greek, is appointed director of Cornell University Summer Session, taking over from Dean Charles DeGarmo. Summer Session that year features 37 professors, courses in 20 departments, and tuition of $25. Bristol serves as director until 1918.

July 5, 1906

The Cornell University Summer Session announcement of that year highlights a calendar of summer events that includes, among other offerings, "General Lectures, Musical Recitals, and Readings." This tradition continues today as Cornell's free summer events series, which features Tuesday night performances, Wednesday night lectures (introduced now, as they were in the early 1900s, by the Summer Session director), and Friday night concerts.

1919

Robert M. Ogden, professor of education, takes over as chairman of the administrative board for Cornell University Summer Session. Ogden serves until 1923.

October 1923

Riverda Harding Jordan, professor of education, is appointed director of Cornell University Summer Session. Jordan serves through the summer of 1934.

1934

Loren C. Petry, professor of botany, who had taught for Cornell University Summer Session since 1918, is appointed director of Summer Session. His term begins in 1935, and he serves until 1944. Reportedly an outstanding professor, he becomes known as "Mr. Summer Session" before going on to become director of veterans education for Cornell.

April 27, 1935

The Cornell University Board of Trustees, in response to a report about the "desirability of having extramural courses offered for credit by Cornell University," approves the establishment of such courses. This marks the beginning of the Division of Extramural Courses, which will later become part of the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions.

October 1, 1944

Howard R. Anderson, director of Cornell's School of Education, is appointed director of Cornell University Summer Session. He resigns on February, 1, 1946, and is temporarily replaced by the assistant director, Lovell Hulse.

June 1946

Charles W. Jones, professor of English, is appointed director of the Cornell University Summer Session. Jones serves until 1948.

1949

Frederick H. Stutz is appointed director of the Cornell University Summer Session. Stutz serves until 1952.

1953

Lloyd H. Elliott, professor of educational administration, is appointed director of the Cornell University Summer Session. Elliott serves until 1956.

1956

The Cornell University Board of Trustees authorizes the Cornell University Summer Sessions to confer degrees.

Sept. 1, 1957

Ralph N. Campbell, professor of industrial education, is appointed director of the Cornell University Summer Session.

July 7, 1958

The Cornell University Board of Trustees appoints William A. Smith, professor of education, as director of the Division of Summer Session, Extramural Courses and Part-time Study, marking the uniting of these programs under one director. Smith serves as director until 1968.

July 7, 1958

Cornell offers its first programs for high school students during the 1950s. In 1958, Cornell Professor Walter Pauk launches the High School Reading Improvement Program, which invites high school juniors and seniors to Cornell during the summer to "develop the reading skills and study techniques which will bring them success in college." This program is the seed for what is now known as Cornell University Summer College, which as of 2015 hosts about 1,000 high school students from all over the world.

July 1, 1968

Martin W. Sampson, Jr., professor of administrative engineering, is appointed director of the Division of Summer Session, Extramural Courses and Part-time Study.

July 21, 1968

In 1964, Cornell trustee Les Severinghaus '21 told then Cornell President James A. Perkins that the time had come for alumni "to be led not by the hand, but by the mind." (Cornell Alumni News, March 1968). These words inspire Curtis S. Reis and Ernie Stern, both class of 1956, to propose a continuing education program for Cornell alumni that would feature "a unique blend of intellectual challenge, cultural stimulation, and family recreation in a friendly and familiar setting," and thus is born Cornell’s Alumni University. The first CAU summer features two one-week programs for adults and children 3 to 18, with seminars for adults led by Professors James McConkey, Allan Feldt, John Freccero, and L. Pearce Williams. Since then, CAU, later renamed Cornell's Adult University, has hosted almost 50,000 participants. See also the Cornell Chronicle story about CAU's anniversary.

April 6, 1973

Cornell's Alumni University offers the first of its off-campus study tours, an April 6–8 "weekend of inquiry and escape" at Split Rock Lodge in the Poconos. The program, "Tomorrow's World," features professors Walter F. LaFeber (who discusses the shifting relationships of the world's governments) and Richard D. O'Brien (who speaks on the impact, or lack thereof, of technology over the past fifty years). The seminar draws 147 participants. Since that time, CAU study tours led by Cornell faculty and presidents have crossed the world.

September, 1, 1975

The Division of Summer Session, Extramural Courses and Part-time Study (now the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions) launches Cornell’s Visitors Program, which allows area residents to attend virtually any Cornell course for a nominal fee, on a non-credit basis, contingent upon the existence of available space in the class and the agreement of the instructor. Fees for attending courses on a non-credit basis are $10 per credit hour that year. According to the Cornell Chronicle, the development of the Visitors Program is based on recommendations from the University Senate, Cornell's Women's Studies Program, and the State University of New York.

December 29, 1975

The Division of Summer Session, Extramural Courses and Part-time Study (now the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions) offers its first "Wintersession" course, a three-credit study of Russian culture, in Russia. The course is led by Cornell grad Dr. Alice Stone Nakhimovsky and features two weeks in Moscow and Leningrad, followed by a week back on the Cornell campus. Twenty-five students attend, and the course's popularity leads to the creation of additional study abroad options during the winter break and the establishment of a regular roster of Winter Session courses at Cornell.

Spring 1980

The Cornell in Washington (CIW) program, proposed by Theodore Lowi, the John L. Senior Professor of American Institutions, launches in the spring of 1980 in DC. By 1981, under the direction of Arch Dotson, professor of government, the program enrolls more than 60 students and offers nine courses, student research experience, and internships.

1980

Robert D. "Scott" McDougall is appointed dean of the Division of Summer Session (now the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions).

1987

Charles W. Jermy Jr. is appointed acting dean and director of Summer Session. Jermy, who started his career with Summer Sessions in 1972, goes on to become associate dean of the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions in 1991.

Spring 1985

The Cornell in Washington (CIW) program celebrates its permanent home at 2148 O Street NW. President Frank H. T. Rhodes formally opens the center, and supporters mark the occasion by transplanting ivy from the Cornell Plantations on the walls of the building and soaking it with water from Beebe Lake. The Dupont-neighborhood building is renamed the Cornell University Wolpe Center in 2003.

July 1, 1991

Glenn C. Altschuler begins the first of several terms as dean of the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions (SCE). The Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies, Altschuler is the author or coauthor of numerous books, including Cornell: A History, 1940-2015 (written with government professor Isaac Kramnick). An award-winning professor and former vice president for university relations (2009–2013), Altschuler chairs Cornell’s Sesquicentennial Steering Committee. As of 2015, Altschuler continues to serve as SCE dean.

March 5-7, 1992

The Division of Summer Session, Extramural Study, and Related Programs becomes the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions, whose mission is to present the broadest possible range of high-quality learning opportunities to Cornell’s many constituencies. As of 2015, SCE had grown to serve approximately 5,400 students a year in more than 640 classes and programs on campus, online, and around the world.

1993

SCE experiments with distance education using consumer electronics, offering a cassette tape series on "Western Power, Politics, Principles: Toward the Twenty-First Century" featuring three of Cornell’s premier scholars: Walter LaFeber, Isaac Kramnick, and Peter Katzenstein.

1997-98

SCE offers its first credit-bearing online course during the 1997-1998 Cornell University Winter Session. Taught by Vicki Jones, Communications 272: Principles of Public Relations and Advertising, comprises six videotapes featuring 27 classes.

June 1, 2001

Cornell's Adult University director Ralph Janis launches CyberTower, an online series designed to complement CAU's on-campus seminars and international travel adventures. CyberTower features short online seminars taught by many of Cornell's top faculty members. Initial offerings focus on subjects from archaeology, engineering, history, and literature to nutrition, paleontology, architecture, and wine appreciation. The online series also includes interviews hosted by Glenn Altschuler, dean of the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions. (CyberTower merges with CornellCast in 2010.)