The Birth of American Higher Education
The mission and curriculum of American institutions of higher education evolved greatly in the nation's first two hundred years. Harvard College was the first institution of higher education founded in North America in 1636. It was founded with a mission to produce civic and religious leaders and to educate the “savage” local Indians (Morison, 1928). From this beginning, the colonies developed and new institutions sprung up with diversity in religious affiliation and an ever increasing diversity in curriculum. The earliest educational institutions relied solely on the classic curriculum. The classic curriculum focused on mental discipline gained through the rigorous study of the ancient languages. Students were to exercise and strengthen their mental faculties by learning and reciting passages written in the ancient languages. This task was meant to lay the scholarly foundation for the student. In Jeremiah Day’s defense of the classic curriculum in the Yale Report of 1828, Day stated that the objective of a collegiate course should be “to call into daily and vigorous exercise the faculties of the student” (Hofstadter & Smith, 1961, pp. 278). Day goes on to stress that the purpose of these exercises are not to train a student for a specific vocational pursuit. The education offered by this curriculum was not meant to be a pragmatic one, but rather an exercise of mental discipline that was to produce leaders with the ability to think critically.

At the same time Day was writing his defense of the Yale curriculum, Union College was on the frontlines of academic expansion. Union College became the first college to offer a Bachelor of Arts in Science in 1828. Union college did still offer classical courses but, Union students were at liberty to choose a combination of course work from the classical offerings and from the scientific offerings. This, in effect, established the first college course elective system. Additionally, Union professors began to shift from class meetings focusing on recitations to a lecture based approach (Pilcher, 1994). This then required the professors to begin their own personal research in an effort to prepare for their lectures. True scholarship in American higher education was being born.

How far we have now come! We are certainy still concerned with fostering critical thinking skills in our students and scholarship is indeed essential, but the days that disregarded the application of knowledge are gone. And nowhere is application more emphasized than - The Community College!

Click on button above for a timeline containing significant higher ed milestones.

The Evolution of the Community College Mission
"Since their inception, community colleges have represented a point of access for students to postsecondary education and job training, with two-year colleges serving more minority students than other institutional types and providing academic pathways that might not otherwise be available. The key mission of community colleges has shifted over time. It went from primarily a transfer and precollege focus to more comprehensive missions of addressing workforce development, student success programs, honors courses, teacher education, baccalaureate delivery models, and a host of programs that go beyond the traditional junior" (Floyd, Haley, Eddy, & Antczak, 2009, p. 229).

See also Community College/ Junior College History


Floyd, D., Haley, A., Eddy, P., & Antczak, L. (2009). Celebrating the past, creating the future: 50 years of community college research. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 33(3), 216-237.
Hofstadter, R., & Smith, W. (1961). In American higher education: a documentary education. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Morison, Samuel Eliot (1928). In the history and traditions of Harvard College. Cambridge: Harvard College.
Pilcher, V. E. (1994). In early science and the first century of physics at Union College, 1795 - 1895. Schnectady: Union College.