The Northeast Center is one of four Regional Rural Development Centers established in the early 1970s in response to a research initiative by the Cooperative State Research Service--USDA (Title V of the Rural Development Act of 1972 added extension activities to the Centers' function.) The Northeast Center was moved from Cornell to Penn State in 1985. The Southern Center is located at Mississippi State, the North Central Center at Michigan State, and the Western Center at Utah State.

The Centers address issues facing rural communities that are often multi-state in scope and require faculties from several disciplines to resolve. Often the Centers work together on rural issues that are interregional or national in scope. Each Center is administered by a joint agreement between USDA and the site institution operating for the Extension Service and the Experiment Station in the region. Major core funding comes from the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service and the region's land-grant universities. Increasingly, other federal and state agencies, private foundations, and public interests contribute funding in support of special programs.

Each Center is guided by their own regional board of directors. Additionally, the Northeast Center and North Central Center are guided by their own regional technical advisory committee; the Southern Center's program advisory committee operates in much the same manner. Please refer to other subheadings for more information about the Northeast Center.