Rend Lake College has been the place “where learning never ends” for many years, serving thousands of in-district residents annually.
The college was founded in 1955 as Mt. Vernon Community College and officially became Rend Lake College when it was organized December 20, 1966, under the Illinois Junior College Act (Illinois Revised Statutes, 1967; Chapter 122, Sections 101-1 to 108-2).
Mt. Vernon Community College initially was approved by an overwhelming 25-to-1 vote and was under the supervision of the local high school board, with boundaries the same as those for High School District No. 201. The purpose of this two-year college was to provide postsecondary educational experiences, primarily university-parallel curricula, for the graduates of Mt. Vernon Township High School. Faculty and facilities were provided by the high school.
The first classes of Mt. Vernon Community College began in September 1956, with an enrollment of 124 day and 79 evening students. Expanded curricula offerings in both the baccalaureate and vocational areas, plus the establishment of a School of Practical Nursing in 1961, eventually attracted students from surrounding communities, and by 1966 the college’s enrollment stood at 721 students.
Rend Lake College became a reality shortly after the announcement of the Master Plan for Higher Education in Illinois. Dramatic changes in educational purpose and curricula accompanied the name change.
Voters of the eight-county district approved the establishment of Rend Lake College by nearly an 8-to-1 margin on October 22, 1966, a new governing board was elected from the district in December of that same year and on July 1, 1967, Rend Lake College assumed the assets, liabilities and responsibilities of Mt. Vernon Community College. The purpose of the new college was to provide university-parallel, occupational and general and adult education for the citizens of this new district. District 521 includes the majority of Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson and Perry counties, parts of Wayne and White and even reaches into Washington and Williamson. Included are 13 high school districts – Benton, Christopher, Hamilton County, Mt. Vernon, Norris City-Omaha-Enfield, Pinckneyville, Sesser-Valier, Thompsonville, Waltonville, Wayne City, Webber, Woodlawn and Zeigler-Royalton.
In its early stages, Rend Lake College was located on the campus of Mt. Vernon Township High School. When it began operation on July 1, 1967, the college had a staff of 29 full-time and eight part-time faculty members, two full-time administrators and a librarian.
The Board of Trustees of the new college later selected a 350-acre site near Ina and employed architects to begin planning a new campus. The campus was located between Interstate 57 and Rend Lake. On November 18, 1967, voters approved a bond issue of $3.1 million, which represented the local share of the $9.5 million total. The Illinois Community College Board allocated $2,230,000 for construction of the initial phase.
Groundbreaking ceremonies for Phase I construction were held March 27, 1969 ... the same day the college received word of its first North Central accreditation. Phase I consisted of five buildings – Academic, Science, Gymnasium, South Oasis and Maintenance – and was ready for occupancy by August 1970, with classes on the new campus beginning that fall. Agriculture, Automotive, Cosmetology (Beauty Culture) and Practical Nursing programs were still housed in off-campus facilities in Benton, Bonnie and Mt. Vernon. Permission was then obtained from the Capital Development Board and the ICCB to incorporate Phase III construction with Phase II. Construction of five more buildings – Administration, Vocational, North Oasis, Student Center and Learning Resource Center – began in Spring 1971. Administration and Vocational buildings were finished in September 1973, and by 1975 Phase II and III construction was complete. Rend Lake College thus became the first community college in the state to complete its entire facilities master plan.
A Stran-Steel building also was erected in 1974, next to the Maintenance Building, and was equipped for the Mining Technology program; three separate expansions of this facility later occurred, along with construction of a new Maintenance Building. In 1989, a new automotive wing was added to the Vocational Building and the technology building was renovated.
An Aquatics Center adjoining James (Hummer) Waugh Gymnasium opened on campus in February 1998. The Aquatics Center is available for public use and is equipped to fill rehabilitative needs of area residents. It includes a six-lane, 75-foot by 45-foot pool which features a ramp for the physically challenged and ranges from 3 feet 6 inches in depth to 7 feet 6 inches. A 10-foot by 20-foot therapy pool and a whirlpool 10 feet in diameter add to the usefulness of the facility. In addition to classes, the pool is open during certain time periods daily for recreational use, and memberships are available to the public.
A Children’s Center to serve the child care needs of RLC students and staff, as well as the educational laboratory needs of the Early Childhood Education program, opened in Fall 1998. Funding for the Children’s Center was provided entirely by the RLC Foundation.
Major remodeling of the Administration Building took place during 1999-2000 and nearly doubled its size. This new “Intake Center” centralizes almost all Student Service functions in one building.
In 2002, major off-campus changes occurred with the addition of the Rend Lake College MarketPlace in Mt. Vernon and the Rend Lake College Murphy-Wall Pinckneyville Campus. In 2003, The Hitting Zone, a baseball / softball training facility, began operations, and was renamed in 2014 as the RLC Recreational Center and repurposed.
In Fall 2005, the Mark S. Kern Applied Science Center opened on the southwest corner of campus. This 22,300-square-feet facility houses the Agricultural Business, Agricultural Production, Agricultural Mechanics, Heavy Equipment and Diesel Technology programs.
Opened in Fall 2009 was the the 20,000-square-feet Coal Mine Training Center. It includes operational coal mining equipment and a mock mine with movable walls and other components. The following year, the adjacent Mine Rescue and Fire Training Facility was completed.
In Fall 2011, the Science & Computer Center was added to the Murphy-Wall Pinckneyville Campus, allowing students to earn a complete associate degree in many disciplines there without the need to travel to the Ina campus.