During the thirties, Self-Supporting Students grew and thrived under FDR’s National Youth Administration, an early incarnation of what is now the Federal Work-Study Program. Penn Student Agencies made its first appearance on July 1, 1933. It is on that date where a reference to “Self-Supporting Students” appears on an organizational chart that details different student aid options. The University of Pennsylvania Placement Service’s 1935-36 Annual Report elaborates upon the structure of the Self-Supporting Students. At that time, PSA (then “Self-Supporting Students”) consisted of three agencies: the Dorm Laundry Agency, the Parking Squad and the Trunk Moving Squad.
The forties reflected a pull back in university attendance due to World War II. A document from the Student Aid department dated March 1, 1943 and entitled “For the Duration of the War Emergency” lists ten student agencies: Car Parking, Service Stands, Dorm Laundry, Medical Laundry, Railway Express, Trunk Moving, Photography, Tutoring, Magazine and Newspaper.
By the beginning of the fifties, the Self-Supporting Students were now referred to as the Associated Agencies and reported gross income of $50,000 annually. The Birthday Cake, Stationary, Coat Checking at the Palestra, Furniture, Auto Linen and Desk Blotter agencies were added during a period of growth in the middle of that decade. In 1959 Car Parking was folded into the University and has since been a separate department.
The sixties saw the advent of corporate partnerships. The Associated Student Agencies collaborated with Tiparillo Cigars and Mennen After Shave to distribute and promote products on campus. Additionally, there was a short-lived Embossograph Agency that produced posters. In 1964, agency workers manned the phones to call in vote tallies for various precincts from Pennsylvania’s central control point during the Johnson-Goldwater election. In 1969, the Associated Student Agencies, now located in the lower Quad, invested $40,000 in new linen with the expectation that the newly constructed high rises would create increased demand. Instead, with laundry rooms located on every other floor, wash-and-wear sheets became the next big thing and the Associated Student Agencies realized a financial loss. However, the creation of the Student Snack Agency brought in a new revenue source and the Associated Student Agencies moved forward.
In 1972, the Associated Student Agencies relocated its offices to 3609 Locust Walk. Then, in 1974, they relocated again, this time to 301 Logan Hall. During the seventies, the student directory began publication and the Apparel Agency manufactured clothing for various Penn departments. In 1975, citing marketing reasons, the organization’s name was changed to Penn Student Agencies. In 1976, the Publications Agency printed The Student Bicentennial Guide to Philadelphia. At the same time, the entire city saw an onslaught of bicentennial related merchandise and a smaller than anticipated tourism turnout. This made for another financial disappointment. Yet, the Catering Agency, Bartending School and Bus Agency all brought about large successes. By 1977 the PSA budget had expanded to $300,000 annually and maintained a workforce of 180 students.
In 1985, PSA reported the following agencies: Professional Services, Newspaper, Catering, Travel, Linen, Publications, Small Ventures, Product Line, Commissaries and Distribution. That year also saw the debut of the Penn Calendar, customized Penn Banners and a partnership with Art Carved (now Balfour) for class ring sales; all of which continue to the present day. Our headquarters are now located in Williams Hall, Room 117.
Throughout its history, PSA’s unique experiential learning model has provided a chance for students to live and learn entrepreneurship and business management. Many of our graduates have gone on to lead financial services, non-profit, and retail enterprises. Regardless of major or career interest, student participants develop entrepreneurial and business skills and receive an invaluable experience from working at PSA.