Community College/ Junior College History

Democracy's College
A brief overview of the history of community colleges in the United States:

The Junior College Era

The Community College Era

The Community College 2.0 Era


Train post-secondary students for careers demanding increased skills
Train students for careers. Provide access to university level academic opportunities. Provide services to the community
Provide college access, vocation training, community programs, developmental education and educational opportunities for secondary students

Historical Movements

Industrial Revolution, Suffrage movement, World War One, Explosive growth of businesses and firms
World War II, GI Bill, Civil Rights movement, Passage of the Higher Education acts
Digital/Information Age, End of Cold War, The Great Recession, Decline of manufacturing economy

Historical Events

1901: Founding of Joliet Junior College (the first in the US)1909: 20 junior colleges in operation
1910: Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for 2 year institutions, founded at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri
1917: Passage of the Smith-Hughes Act, which promoted vocational education1920-21: The American Association of Junior Colleges is founded
1930: 440 junior colleges in operation

1944: The GI Bill is passed
1947: The Truman Commission’s report on higher education – suggests providing education through community colleges throughout the U.S.
1960s: Growth in community colleges, 487 new community colleges were founded
1960: The W.K.Kellogg Foundation establishes grants to create community college leadership programs
1963: Federal Vocational Education Act Federal funds provided for “institutions where education was less than college grade,” U.S. Department of Education described programs that taught trade and industrial skills.

1965: The Higher Education Re authorization Act is passed, helped strengthen continuing education programs
1968: The League for Innovation in the Community College is founded

1984: The Carol D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act is passed; providing support for vocational education
1994: The School-to-Work Opportunities Act is passed, funding local partnerships between community organizations, especially education and businesses to create employment opportunities
2001: The community colleges celebrate their centennial

Social Expectations

More students desire education beyond the secondary level. Training for development in areas such as drivers training and sex education.
More students want to transfer to a 4-year university, Community members want ongoing educational opportunities, Continued growth in the 2-year sector due to increased government funding.
Demands grow for additional programs, affordability, and quality. Community college is seen as a social mobility for lower socioeconomic statuses.

Political Expectations

Train students for specific vocations in business and industry. Little or no government interference.
Enrollments skyrocket, federal government and states become more involved with coordination and funding.
Increased emphasis on access and accountability, especially in regards to degree completion.

Private Sector Expectations

Need for skilled labor, more women entering workforce with no formal education. Need for "middle management" training.
Individual industries begin funding local vocational programs. Expectation that colleges will teach students necessary workforce skills. Workers are needed in society to be trained.
Strength of partnerships continues to grow as local industries become dependent on graduates. Community colleges hold a close tie to local businesses to keep the community working.

Academic/Curricular Focus

Vocational-technical education and community service
Vocational-technical education, community service, adult education, academic transfer, and developmental/remedial education
Vocational-technical education, community service, adult education, academic transfer, developmental/remedial education, duel enrollment, and college access programs


Full time teachers who originate in the secondary system.
Full time faculty come from 4-year university backgrounds. Part time adjuncts are brought in to help with demands of soaring enrollment.
Increasing numbers of part time adjuncts are hired in order to reduce costs, full time faculty begin to decline.


Leaders originate from secondary and vocational systems.
Leaders are specifically trained for community college positions through university degree and professional organization programs.
Decline in available community college leaders within the current leadership 'pipeline' opens doors for those outside the community college systems.

Public vs. Private

Institutions begin as "off-shoots" of private 4-year institutions.
Dynamic growth of public 2-year colleges, many junior colleges are incorporated by the state or transition to 4-year institutions.
Few junior colleges remain, 2-year public colleges dominate the landscape. Continued increase in community college by students of minority, first generation, lower income status.

The Development of the junior/community colleges through history:

The development of the junior/community college system began in the mid 1880s out of demands for increased access to higher education. The Morrill Acts established a means to meet the community's needs for agricultural and vocational education, as well as provided low-cost alternatives to private education. This step in higher education allowed individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds a chance to earn an education traditionally only for the upper class. These Acts also established the idea of service and how education can serve the community through education. During this time frame, there was a lot of discussion over how to increase the educational levels of the populace. Several educational leaders were trying to develop different models for education, including expanding the secondary schools to include lower level college courses. The establishment of Joliet Junior College came out of these discussions, thus creating the first junior college and the establishment of the intermediary educational systems. Joliet Junior College was developed by J. Stanley Brown, the superintendent of Joliet Township High School and William Rainey Harper, the president of the University of Chicago as an experiment to remedy the influx in students desiring more education as well as a remedial program to prepare them for furthering their education. Joliet originally opened with six enrolled students and is still open today with an enrollment of 35,000 students.
Historical Photo Tour:
AACC Link for Significant Events 1862-2001:
Community Colleges Past to Present:

Historical Events Timeline:

The present:

Below is map of the community colleges in the United States from the American Association of Community Colleges (
Growth of the community college over 100 years.
May 2012


YouTube Video Show The History of Community Colleges:

Historical Overview of Grand Rapids Community College

South Omaha: Celebrating History at Metropolitan Community College

Additional Resources For More Information:

American Association of Community College's Historical Information:

Joliet Junior College:

Virginia Community College System:


American Association of Community Colleges. (2010). Significant historical events in the development of the public community college. Retrieved April 7, 2010, from

American Association of Community Colleges. (2010). A look at the future. Retrieved April 9, 2010, from

American Association of Community Colleges. (2010). Community college map. Retrieved April 9, 2010 from

Cohen, A. M., & Brawer, F. B. (2008). The American community college (Fifth ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Cohen, A.M., Brawer, F.B., & Kisker, C.B. (2013). The American Community College (6th ed.).San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Floyd, D.L., Haley, A, Eddy, P.L., & Antczak, L. (2009) Celebrating the Past, creating the future: 50 years of community college research. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 33: 216-237.

Joliet Junior College. (2010). History. Retrieved April 9, 2010, from

Levinson, D. L. (2005). The growth of community colleges in the twentieth century. Community colleges (pp. 43-73). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc.