A plethora of higher education and technical training opportunities is available in the region.
Peoria is a mecca of higher-education possibilities! That’s right: we have a variety of private and public institutions, for-profit and nonprofit, community-college, four-year and degree completion programs. We also have discipline-focused colleges that prepare graduates for specific skills in the workplace. Some of our schools originated with close ties to religious partners, others as a public service to the citizens, and still others as private, entrepreneurial entities.
Many residents are surprised to learn there are eight schools of higher education in the area. Illinois Central College is the only public two-year school in Peoria. Bradley University, Midstate College and Robert Morris University are private, four-year, degree-granting institutions. Peoria is also home to the Saint Francis Medical Center College of Nursing and Methodist College, both nursing and/or health science baccalaureate programs. The University of Illinois College of Medicine, established in Peoria to provide medical graduate education, recently added the College of Nursing for master’s and doctoral degrees in nursing. And finally, the University of Illinois Peoria Center is the only upper-division program in the state that offers baccalaureate and master’s degrees in business.
Private Colleges and Universities
Jubilee College in Brimfield was the first college in the Peoria area. Founded in 1839 by Episcopal Bishop Philander Chase, it was one of the earliest educational enterprises in the state. However, through a series of misfortunes including the bishop's death, it closed in 1862.
The oldest continuous school of higher education in Peoria is Midstate College, which first offered classes in 1888 as Brown’s Business College of Commerce. The private, for-profit institution granted two-year associate’s degrees. In 1965, the Bunch family purchased the majority of stock and renamed it Midstate College. Dale Bunch became president and remained in that role until 2010, when his daughter, Meredith Bunch, succeeded him. Midstate College now offers bachelor’s degrees in a variety of disciplines, in addition to associate’s degrees and diploma programs.
Originally located in downtown Peoria, Midstate College built a campus on Northmoor Drive in north Peoria in 2002. The school is on a quarter system—offering four semesters of classes throughout the year—and is home to approximately 500 students.
Of course, the largest four-year college in the region is Bradley University, established in the late 1800s—a vibrant time in Peoria’s history of wealth from the railroads, whiskey production and land development. Lydia and Tobias Bradley were among the affluent couples who were savvy entrepreneurs as well as concerned citizens, and upon the death of her husband and children, Lydia took it upon herself to establish a school for higher learning. After consulting with William Rainey Harper, president of the University of Chicago, she purchased the Parsons Horological School—the first watchmaking school in the country—and had it moved by rail from Indiana to the hilltop of Peoria. Renamed Bradley Polytechnic Institute, it opened on October 4, 1897 and admitted both men and women, free of charge.
Today, Bradley University houses five academic colleges, a graduate school and an NCAA Division 1 athletics program. It serves approximately 5,000 students and offers more than 100 educational degree programs, and has been consistently recognized by U.S. News and World Report as one of the outstanding midsized comprehensive schools in the Midwest.
Robert Morris University is the third private institution in Peoria, chartered as Robert Morris College in Carthage, Illinois in 1965. The Peoria site at One Technology Plaza opened as its sixth satellite campus in 2000. RMU offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business, associate’s degrees in health fields, and a variety of athletic sports and clubs, including football, ice hockey and lacrosse.
The Two-Year Community College
Illinois Central College was established in 1967 when citizens voted to create a comprehensive, public, two-year community college. ICC’s first president was Dr. Kenneth L. Edwards, followed by Dr. Leon “Bud” Perley, then Dr. Thomas K. Thomas. Upon the recent retirement of Dr. John Erwin, ICC’s fourth president, Dr. William Tammone was named the interim president.
When student growth exceeded the accommodations of temporary buildings, ICC built its first permanent structure on grounds in East Peoria. In the 1980s, two buildings in downtown Peoria were purchased for classrooms and offices on Adams Street, and in 2003, ICC purchased the former Zeller mental health facility and renovated it into classrooms, offices and the Professional Development Institute for adult learning. With more than 13,000 students served annually, the school awards associate’s degrees and certificates to 1,800 graduates each year.
Health Education Institutions
Methodist College originated in 1900 as the Deaconess Home and Hospital and its School of Nursing through the Methodist Episcopal Church of Peoria. Now affiliated with UnityPoint Health, Methodist College is a hospital-based program offering three tracks in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, a Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences, a Gerontology Certificate and a Master of Science in Nursing-Nurse Educator program.
Though currently located in the heart of Peoria’s medical community, Methodist College plans to relocate to 5801 W. War Memorial Drive in north Peoria next year. The new, $17-million campus will be home to the Simulation Learning Center, which allows students to learn interactively with high-tech robotic simulators. The new Methodist College is expected to open for the Fall 2016 semester under its president, Dr. Kim Johnston.
Saint Francis Medical Center College of Nursing offers Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and post-graduate Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree programs. Located on the campus of OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, the college had its beginnings as St. Francis Hospital School of Nursing in 1905.
Established in 1985, the Saint Francis College of Nursing is the only Catholic college of nursing in the Peoria Diocese. Students are required to earn freshman and sophomore general education hours at an accredited institution to transfer into the BSN program. The curriculum blends nursing education with clinical experiences at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center.
University of Illinois in Peoria
As a public institution of higher education, the University of Illinois has had a presence in Peoria for more than 45 years. The University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria (UICOMP) is a regional campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago, founded in 1970 to expand medical education opportunities and increase the number of practicing medical doctors in the state.
Initially, it was known as the Peoria School of Medicine, located in the First National Bank building in downtown Peoria. In 1972, classes were moved to Bradley University’s Burgess Hall for four years, and since 1976, it has been situated at One Illini Drive in the heart of the medical community. In 1982, the school was renamed the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria. Since its inception, about 1,800 physicians have received Doctor of Medicine degrees from UICOMP.
Today, UICOMP partners with UnityPoint Health – Methodist, OSF Saint Francis Medical Center and Children’s Hospital of Illinois to sponsor 12 residency programs and a range of fellowships. In addition, UICOMP and OSF Saint Francis were gifted $25 million to create and sustain the state-of-the-art Jump Trading Simulation and Education Center.
Originally founded in 1975, the Sangamon State University Peoria Center became the UIS Peoria Center in 1995 when the University of Illinois acquired Sangamon State University and established the University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) campus. It is the youngest public university in the state of Illinois.
The UIS Peoria Center conducted upper-division classes for business, accounting and criminal justice on ICC’s East Peoria campus for more than 30 years until 2009, when it relocated to the ICC Perley building in downtown Peoria. Students can transfer from ICC or other two- or four-year schools to earn a bachelor’s degree in business or accountancy. In 2000, an MBA program was added to the curriculum. Today, the UIS Peoria Center offers a unique blended on-ground and online program, and is the only upper-division business and accounting degree completion program in the State of Illinois.
The University of Illinois Extension provides continuing education in agriculture, nutrition, economic development and environmental sustainability. As an educational outreach effort of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, it offers programs to residents in all 102 Illinois counties. While most Extension programs are offered on an informal, non-credit basis, the Extension does offer continuing education credits in some fields of study.
Technical Training and Education
In addition to eight colleges and universities, Peoria is proud to host four technical training schools. Three beauty schools include Oehrlein School of Cosmetology, Regency Beauty Institute and Tricoci University of Beauty Culture, while Midwest Technical Institute offers training in health services, welding and transportation.
The Future of Higher Education in Peoria
The postsecondary educational opportunities in Peoria are extensive, ranging from professional to scientific studies, technical training to terminal graduate programs, and public to private schools. As technology advances and the needs of the workplace change, our educational programs must also evolve and expand to meet those needs.
The ability to attract new businesses to Peoria necessitates having a workforce prepared to identify and resolve a wide range of problems and challenges. It is imperative that a plethora of higher education and technical training opportunities are available to students, and that these programs are physically and financially accessible to them. Growing our education in Peoria will, in turn, grow Peoria. iBi
Dr. Joyce Ann Shotick is director of the University of Illinois Peoria Center.