Dr. Charles E. Rollins, Founding President
In April 1965, Dr. Charles E. Rollins was appointed by the Board of Trustees as the first president of Bucks County Community College, a role he held until his retirement in 1987.
Dr. Rollins was at the helm of the burgeoning community college movement in the United States. Just three years prior to his appointment at Bucks, he became the founding president of Edison Junior College in Fort Myers, Fla. By the time he came to Newtown, he was 42 years old with 11 years of experience as a junior college administrator.
Born in Appleton, Wis., Dr. Rollins graduated from Lawrence College (now Lawrence University) in his hometown with an A.B. degree. He served in the U.S. Marines, taught history for five years, then earned an M.A. and an Ed.D. from Columbia University in New York City. He served as dean at York Junior College in York, Pa., for nine years before serving as president at Edison Junior College from 1962 until his appointment at Bucks.
Under his leadership, Bucks expanded and grew from 730 students in one building – Tyler Hall – to more than 9,000 students on a thriving Newtown campus that included nearly a dozen buildings that housed a three-story library, television studios, lecture halls, science labs, a gymnasium and a pool.
In the early days of his tenure, Dr. Rollins managed rapid growth and demand for the first public college in the county. By May 1965, he had hired a total of 22 faculty and staff members. The college was expecting a freshman class of about 200 that fall, but instead nearly four times that many streamed through the doors of Tyler Hall.
To handle the influx of students, Dr. Rollins first oversaw the transformation of 200 acres of the former Indian Council Rock estate into a college. The estate had been bequeathed by Stella Elkins Tyler to Temple University, which sold it to the County of Bucks. The 60-room French Norman mansion, renamed Tyler Hall, soon was bursting at the seams as bedrooms, linen closets, basement storage areas and attic rooms were transformed into classrooms, administrative offices, and music rehearsal rooms. The mansion’s original kitchen and dining room served as the first cafeteria. The college’s library began when Dr. Rollins purchased the exhibit collection displayed at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.
Dr. Rollins then guided the major construction projects of the campus, which continued through the early 1970s. He was credited with design ideas that were considered innovative at the time, such as small classrooms to ensure a low student-to-teacher ratio, and professors’ offices with student study cubicles located directly outside the door.
As the campus grew into a unique mix of old and modern architecture, Dr. Rollins oversaw the creation of a vigorous curriculum that quickly gained a solid reputation among four-year colleges and universities that accepted transfer students from Bucks. He was dedicated to the formation of a well-rounded student, and therefore ensured the curriculum included the arts and sciences, including fine arts and visual arts in addition to literature and history.
The Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges, in its 1973 report from the Commission on Higher Education, had high praise for what Dr. Rollins had accomplished as Bucks’ inaugural president.
“The old saying that an institution is often the length and shadow of a single man has become trite, but it is so apt in the case of Bucks County Community College that it must be invoked now. The college’s founding president’s influence is apparent, pervasive, and reflective in the character of the institution,” the commission wrote.
Upon his retirement in 1987, the Bucks County Community College Foundation renamed the library fund the Dr. Charles E. Rollins Library Endowment Fund in his honor. The Student Union Building was later rededicated as the Dr. Charles E. Rollins Center.