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United Way of Lancaster County


Thaddeus Stevens College builds to meet demand

An aerial view of the Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology campus. (Source: Thaddeus Stevens College)

“As quickly as we can build and expand our programs … we’re able to fill them,” Pedro Rivera said.

Rivera is president of Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology, the Lancaster-based two-year trade school. Founded with a bequest from its namesake, Stevens College is devoted to promoting economic mobility for students from economically disadvantaged and marginalized communities.

Following a dip during the pandemic, enrollment has rebounded to record levels. The college admitted 900 students for the Class of 2025 and anticipates 900 more in the Class of 2026. (All students must be Pennsylvania residents or veterans.)

Enrollment in 2023-24 stood at 1,451, up 9% over 2022-23 and up 21% over the pandemic-influenced slump of 1,199 in 2021-22. In the past three years, two new programs have been launched and five have been doubled in size.

Pedro Rivera, president, Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

The increases are prompting a spate of building projects. Within the next year, Stevens College plans to break ground on a new residential hall and dining facility. Two other projects are to follow, both with significant community-facing components.

Later this year, likely in late summer, the college plans to start work on a Community Learning Center near the Greiner Advanced Manufacturing Center on South Broad Street. A year or so after that, it hopes to begin renovating the Alms House, the historic building across the street from the Stevens College campus and just south of the Lancaster Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, formerly Conestoga View.

Here’s a rundown of what’s planned:

Residence Hall & Dining Hall

Originally, Stevens had envisioned building a 200-bed dormitory and a 750-seat cafeteria. The huge post-Covid surge in construction costs has necessitated scaling back somewhat, to 150 beds and 500 seats.

The revised complex will come in at a little under 62,000 square feet and has a preliminary budget of $35 million. Stevens plans to convert the existing dining hall into a center for its commuter students, who make up about half of the student body.

Stevens is currently leasing a dormitory at Millersville University with a capacity of a little over 100 students. That arrangement may continue even after Stevens College builds and occupies the new residence hall: That’s how quickly the resident student population is growing, Rivera said.

Scenes from Stevens College’s April 2024 open house. Left: A masonry instructor speaks with prospective students in a lab space at the Greenfield business park. Right: A current student speaks with a prospective student and his parents in the Computer Integrated Machining at the Greiner Advanced Manufacturing Center. (Photos: PhotOlé Photography)

Community Learning Center

The Community Learning Center will replace a vacant building on the east side of the 8.6-acre Greiner Center property, left over from the property’s previous use as a National Guard armory.

Plans call for a two-story building totaling 14,000 square feet, budgeted at around $7 million. Once groundbreaking takes place, construction is expected to take a little over a year, college spokeswoman Holly White said.

A rendering of the Community Learning Center. (Source: Stevens College) Inset: The existing building it will replace. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

The first floor will have meeting rooms available to the community and a pair of day-care or early learning centers, set up in partnership with “Thrive to Five,” the early childhood education program at Community Action Partnership of Lancaster County. There will be one for infants and one for toddlers and preschoolers, totaling about 50 children in all.

(Source: Stevens College)

The early learning centers will serve not only Stevens College faculty and staff but the community at large. It will help fill a critical need: More than half of Lancaster is considered a “childcare desert,” according to the city’s comprehensive plan.

Thrive to Five’s programming is strongly STEM-focused, making it “perfectly aligned” with the college’s mission, said Lili Dippner, CAP vice president of education and child development.

“This collaboration will be transformative” she said, enhancing “the range of services and supports available to both the college community and the broader community.”

For the college, Rivera said, offering childcare is essential to serve its increasingly diversifying student body. More women are entering the trades, and there are more students in their 20s and 30s, who have started families and are seeking higher earnings.

He and other Stevens College liaisons regularly talk with employers about childcare issues, he said. Companies recognize that it’s increasingly a barrier to parents entering the workforce, he said, and that it needs to be part of their workforce development and retention strategies.

The second floor will house three classrooms set up as “maker spaces.” That will bolster Stevens College’s middle school and high school outreach: Students will be able to visit, make something they can take home and come away with better understanding of the opportunities a STEM career might offer.

The Alms House (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

Alms House

Pennsylvania’s Department of General Services bought the 15-acre Alms House property on Stevens College’s behalf in 2021, paying $3.5 million. The 17,000-square-foot building has been vacant since the Lancaster County Children & Youth agency moved out in 2015.

Besides providing classroom space for general education courses, such as English and math, it will allow Stevens College to add to the catalog of short-term workforce programs it offers with Tec Centro, the Spanish American Civic Association’s bilingual workforce training school.

Rivera said he sees the Alms House serving as an “incubator,” allowing Stevens College to field-test programs that it is considering expanding into full-fledged degree courses.

The building is in relatively good shape, but Stevens College will need to replace its electrical and HVAC systems and make it fully handicap-accessible before it can be used. Due to its layout, its age and historic status, and other factors, it’s going to be expensive: Rivera estimated the cost at around $30 million. The college is “aggressively” pursuing funding, he said.

The Alms House parking lot has about 100 parking spaces. The lot will be refurbished as part of the residence hall and dining hall project, White said, helping to ease the college’s ongoing parking shortage.

Second-year Civil Engineering Construction Technology students at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology replace curb and sidewalk along South Broad Street, a hands-on project with community benefits. (Source: Stevens College)

Filling the jobs pipeline

Stevens College proudly touts the economic opportunities it offers to its students: There are more than 21 open positions per graduate, and their salaries in their first year after graduation average $47,500.

“Our industry partners are hungry to recruit, to engage and to hire our students,” Rivera said.

While not every student comes from or stays in Lancaster County, many do. Especially now, the college is playing a crucial role in the local economy, supplying a pipeline of trained workers to replace the large number who are aging into retirement as the population grays.

The issue is particularly acute in manufacturing, according to the EDC Lancaster County, the county’s designated economic development agency. It is the No. 1 sector by GDP, accounting for 17% of total output, and the second largest by employment, after health care. It is also the sector that is graying the most, with a full 23.4% of its workers aged 55 and up.

Other industries aren’t far behind, and the problem isn’t going away any time soon, EDC President Ezra Rothman told the county commissioners in a presentation earlier this month.

Stevens College is looking forward to fill those skills gaps and providing its students a path to economic success, Rivera said. That’s coupled with a commitment to civic duty, he said: Degree programs almost always include community projects and Stevens’ leadership team is active on boards and community organizations.

“We can’t only educate,” he said. “We have to be part of the bigger community.”

(Editor’s Note: After this article was published, Stevens College provided updated information on the number of programs that doubled in size; the article has been amended accordingly.)