It was only a few years ago that many people questioned the long-term viability of Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.
Student enrollment was fairly low but growing, and debt on the university’s 16-story Market Street facility was still a challenge.
But HU, which received state approval for operations in February 2005, has weathered those storms. Early this year, the university was removed from probation while having its accreditation reaffirmed by the Middles States Commission on Higher Education, a process that started in 2014.
And enrollment has increased from 2,300 students at this time last year to about 3,600 or 3,700 today, said Eric Darr, president of HU.
“We’ve had a significant increase in graduate students,” Darr said, which prompted the university to move forward on a $4 million fit-out of the 10th and 11th floors of its downtown Harrisburg building.
The two floors, which amount to about 35,000 square feet of space, had never been finished. But now HU is bursting at the seams.
Graduate students now account for about 3,000 students, Darr said. A master’s degree program in data analytics has about 700 students a year after it was announced, while the information systems engineering and management program has added 300 to 400 students over the year.
“On any given weekend, we have no room in the building and we’ve been renting space from Temple,” Darr said.
The construction project, which began in July, should wrap up by the end of the year, according to Harrisburg-based Reynolds Enterprises, the firm overseeing the work. The project will add 34 new faculty offices, 12 classrooms of various sizes and a handful of student tutoring spaces.
“We’re excited to see our clients being successful and growing and to be a part of the growing process,” said David Angle, one of the owners at Reynolds, which managed the original construction of the 16-story high-rise.
Among the dedicated spaces will be an interactive media studio, a biology science laboratory and a prototyping space to support local advanced manufacturing initiatives, Darr said.
To accommodate large programs and special events, including cybersecurity summits, three of the classroom spaces can be joined together as a 360-degree space capable of seating 300 people.
HU is expected to use the new spaces in January.
The project could have future impacts on the first two floors of the building, Darr added. “With a growing population, that means a need for more student services, whether that’s tutoring or advising spaces. We are looking at a redesign.”
If the university continues to grow at its current pace, more space will likely be needed in the coming years. Darr said his team has already begun thinking about the next academic building and potential sites for it.
The preference would be to build something along the Market Street corridor, Darr said. “Our challenge almost immediately (with the fit-out project) will be that the majority of offices will already be full. I can find office space (to lease) easier than science or tech labs.”
HU also is planning to move its small Philadelphia location next spring to accommodate future growth. The university has about 10,000 square feet now and would like to expand to a 40,000-square-foot site, Darr said. “We’re looking to move additional programs to Philly.”
Meanwhile, HU is already serving as a feeder hub for tech talent for local firms that have been growing in Harrisburg. WildFig is a big-data firm downtown, while Geneia LLC is a larger health care analytics firm along Cameron Street.
“We’re trying to work with the city, the county and employers to retain as many people as we can,” Darr said.