The History of Community Colleges

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Community colleges have become a vital part of higher education system. Many events have contributed to the development and continued growth of American community colleges. Their history dates back to the early twentieth century, and largely came about due to the need for workers to operate the nations expanding industries. In addition there was also an increased pressure on the nation’s school system to fix any social issues or problems that were occurring; such as merging ethic lines, unemployment levels, supplying the nation with skilled vocational traits etc. (Cohen & Brawer, 2008). Community colleges would thrive on the new responsibilities because they had no traditions to defend, or any alumni to question their role (Cohen & Brawer, 2008). Several different groups advocated for community colleges in the early twentieth century, including students and parents, educators, businesses, state universities, and government officials.

Community colleges were first known as "junior colleges" and were lower divisions of larger private universities. They were defined as any institution that awarded the associate of arts or science as its highest degree (Cohen & Brawer, 2008). Organizationally, they tended to be very small intuitions that focused on general education classes with the goal of transferring to a four year institution. The growth of community colleges had a direct correlation with overall growth of higher education in the twentieth century. Our nation was in an academic transition, the percentage of high school graduates rose from 30 percent in the 1924 to 75 percent by 1960, with nearly 60 percent of high school graduates going on to higher education (Cohen & Brawer, 2008). As educators began to realize that students needed more educational opportunities after high school; the idea of these smaller colleges came about. Educators saw that a lot of students were not able to go away to a four-year college after high school and they also saw that extending high schools for two more years would likely never happen (Brick, 1964).

Understanding the need to establish a college, of which, provides an opportunity for the United States population to achieve a higher level of education, William Rainey Harper, the first president at the University of Chicago, had a meeting with the Joliet superintendent of schools, J. Stanley Brown to create Joliet Junior College the first public junior college in 1901. Harper had been advocating a "2+2" approach to higher education, suggesting that undergraduates should focus on general education coursework in their first two years of college to serve as a foundation to specialize in a field of study in their next two years. Under this model, Harper recommended the dividing the university into two different parts; one was called the upper division and the other called the lower division. The upper divisions were known as the "Senior Colleges" while the lower divisions as the "Academic Colleges." (Witt, Wattenbarger, Gollattscheck, & Suppiger, 1994). Harper wanted these two separate colleges to focus on the different levels of training; primarily, the "Senior Colleges" was to focus more on the advanced courses and research while the "Academic Colleges" focused more on the entry level and general education courses. Harper also envisioned that a two-year school would soon stand on its own; however, it would still be affiliated with the university.

Harper was not alone in his views of the "2+2" model in fact there were proposals for a junior college system dating back to 1851 by Henry Tappan president of the University of Michigan. Tappan proposed that junior colleges should relieve universities the burden of providing general education for young people, and insisted that universities would not become true research and professional development centers until they relinquish the lower division preparatory work (Cohen & Brawer, 2008). Harper had also advocated for...
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