Storied campus takes new role

Despite decreasing budgets and enrollment, officials say Ambler still has its place at Temple.

TIMOTHY VALSHSTEIN TTN Ambler Campus provides Temple students with a much different scene than North Philadelphia. However, the last residence hall closed in 2010. Without a residential population, the campus is catering toward adult and commuter students.

Driving up North Broad Street, Temple is pretty hard to miss. The shops of Avenue North, the majesty of Conwell Hall and the towering Johnson and Hardwick residence halls give an indication of the university’s place. While Main Campus harbors the hustle and bustle feel of an urban university, Ambler Campus offers a starkly different experience to its students.

In what the Director of the Ambler Arboretum Jenny Rose Carey refers to as a “hidden gem,” Ambler sneaks up on the average visitor. No big flags, no signs of a huge marketing campaign, just a small cherry-and-white sign on East Butler Pike showing that the campus is near.

Ambler may not have the feel of the urban university that’s situated in North Philadelphia, but it holds its own with a rich 100-plus-year-old history that stems from its roots in horticulture. And while Ambler’s budget has shrunk and enrollment has decreased in recent years, its administrators maintain that the campus holds relevance in ways that Main Campus does not.


Ambler was not always the subsidiary to Main Campus that it is today.

Founded in 1911 as the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women, the Ambler Campus was conceived out of a trip to England by Germantown native and Quaker, Jane Bowne Haines, said Ambler alumna Mary Anne Blair Fry.

“She went to England and found out that they had colleges or schools for women to learn the trade of horticulture and perhaps go into business for themselves and be their own boss,” Fry, a 1958 graduate, said. “Whereas, education in this country for girls was limited mostly to secretarial, teaching, nursing, that sort of thing. And she had a passion for agriculture and horticulture, so she came back and then started the school.”

The school held its first graduation ceremony in 1915, with only three graduates, according to “A Century of Cultivation,” a book about the school written by Fry and Carey. While Fry admitted that the first few years of the school yielded only a few students, the school played a major role in society at the time.

“The school really did a lot of different things. They had the Women’s Land Army during the first world war, they taught food growing and preservation to prevent the starvation that some of the European countries were having during the wars because food production was down,” Fry said. “And they taught the women to go out and encouraged them to have their own gardens and learn how to preserve because at that time preserving food was still a new process.”

The school survived through both the Great Depression and World War II in what proved to be trying times for Ambler Campus. According to the book, under the direction of Louise Carter Bush-Brown, who became director of the school in 1924, the school survived while most men were in the war, leaving Bush-Brown to “teach almost all of the courses as well as milk the cows, tend to the chickens, and cultivate the gardens.”

Even as the school struggled during the economic downturn of the 1930s and the war period of the 1940s, the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women survived under a name that it would soon shed.


While the school suffered during the wars, it fought through and grew, and in 1952 was admitted as a provisional member of the American Association of Junior Colleges, according to its website.

The website reads that the school was given permission in 1957 by the Pennsylvania States Council on Education to change its name to Ambler Junior College.

Soon after, in 1958, Temple invited Ambler Junior College to join its program. When it was accepted, the Board of Trustees changed its name to the Ambler Campus of Temple University.

This merger created much opportunity for students at Ambler – including the fact that it made the school co-ed – but for agriculture majors such as Fry, it created a uncertain situation.

After joining Temple, the university decided to discontinue the agriculture major. Fry became one of eight people in the history of Temple to graduate with a degree in agriculture.

“There were eight of us that were in ‘Ag,’” Fry said. “We were granted diplomas in associate in science from Temple which technically was an associate in science and animal husbandry. So, it’s kind of unique.”


Ambler, along with the rest of Temple, has felt the pinch of tightening budgets and dwindling state appropriations in recent years.

The operating budget of Ambler has dropped by approximately $420,000 in the past three fiscal years, according to William Parshall, executive director of Temple Ambler.

Parshall added that students at Ambler have felt the same kinds of effects as students on Main Campus because of state appropriation cuts.

“Students have felt some of the same things that Main Campus has, the most obvious being tuition increases,” Parshall said. “One of the things that has happened and it’s impacted both the Center City Campus as well as Ambler Campus, has been schools and colleges are combining sections, offering fewer sections, raising class sizes a little bit and we’ve lost some sections at both Center City and Ambler at the undergraduate level. So, we’re looking for new academic programs that maybe reach a new audience out here.”

Carey added that the campus has been doing more with less and does not always have to rely on its allotted money to fund its programs.

“I think obviously the cuts have affected us in the same sort of way in that we are trying to do probably more with less money,” Carey said. “We are lucky in that a lot of the things that we actually do, like planting trees…that’s all money that’s coming from individual donations. So, a lot of the things we do we try to get the money for and then if we get the money then we can [move forward].”

On top of a tightened budget, Ambler’s enrollment has also suffered in recent years. Parshall said that enrollment has dropped by approximately 1,000 students during the past three years, with 3,156 students in Fall 2008 and 2,286 in Fall 2011.

Ambler also closed the last of its residence halls in 2010. Parshall said that the buildings, built in 1965, were in bad shape and had heavy energy costs associated with them.

When asked whether the halls would be brought back, Parshall said that if that situation were to occur, they would probably look to the private market for a solution.

“If it [was] determined that we had a residential base and it was desirable to re-establish a residential population, it might be more along the model of what Temple has done on Main Campus with private developers that have built housing and students rent from them, like the Edge and University Village,” he said.


Faced with shrinking enrollment and a tight budget, Ambler has been forced to reevaluate is status as a suburban campus.

“Ambler is making the transition from being a mixed residential, commuter campus, into an all commuter campus and the mix of students is changing,” Parshall said. “If you look at Ambler historically, it’s been younger traditionally, more young adult transfers from community colleges. In recent years, there have been more adults. The academic strategic plan is calling for Ambler to focus increasingly upon commuter students and adult students returning to school.”

Parshall said that along with focusing on commuters and veterans, he expects to see more transfers from community colleges.

Ambler is also increasingly establishing dual credit agreements with community colleges throughout the area.

Even as the campus lost its residential status, the campus still maintains 30 student organizations Assistant Dean for Student Life Dr. Wanda Lewis-Campbell told The Temple News.

And while marketing has proved difficult for a campus in transition, it still offers aspects that make it appealing to many students.

“We’re small, we’re intimate, and you’re a part of Temple and you have access to all that the university has to offer,” Lewis-Campbell said. “A research university is at your fingertips.”

Sean Carlin can be reached at

*For more on the changing scene at Ambler, turn to Page 7.

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