American communitycolleges, originally labeled junior colleges or two-year colleges, are one ofthe most influential additions to American higher education to date (Drury, 2003). Theseinstitutions have been around for over a century and have consistently moldedto the educational needs of our society. The American community college isunique in its purpose by delivering educational services and programs to thosewho would not be eligible to enroll in a college or university (Ratcliff, 2017). Now, two year colleges enroll nearly half of theundergraduate population in the U.
S. and provide a transfer curriculum,vocational curriculum, and serve their respective communities (NationalConference of State Legislatures, 2014).The early history ofcommunity colleges began with the Morrill Act of 1862 and the second MorrillAct of 1890, which increased access to public higher education and amplifiedthe need for more higher education institutions to help serve the masses (Drury, 2003). Whenevaluating the structure of post-secondary education, highereducation leaders acknowledged the first two years of college were notreflective of the university-level, research education (Drury, 2003). Severaluniversity presidents at the time, including William Rainey Harper, president ofthe University of Chicago, began to push for the idea of a junior-level college(Drury,2003). These educational leaders began to consider first andsecond years of college similar in terms of student development and basic curriculum.
This idea led higher educationleaders to create a model similar to the German University, which featured thefirst two years of postsecondary education as an extension of high school curriculum (Drury, 2003). In 1892, William RaineyHarper separatedthe University of Chicago into a junior college and a senior college, introducingthe associate’s degree for students completing junior division coursework (Drury, 2003). This movement to a junior and seniorcollege created an elitist model allowing junior colleges to focus on teachingand senior colleges to focus on research; eliminating all but the academicallyadvanced to enter the senior-level division (Drury, 2003). The first junior collegein America, Joliet Junior College, was founded in 1901 by the help of Harper, witha purpose to provide a post-graduate high school program to enhance the skillsof students who successfully completed high school but would not attend auniversity (Swanger, 2013).
After Joliet Junior College was founded, growth of junior colleges was slowduring the beginning of the twentieth century, but that was soon to change (Drury, 2003). By 1914, 14 public junior colleges and 32private junior colleges existed to train individuals to fill the gaps of thenation’s quickly growing industrial needs (Drury, 2003). After World War I, society deemed moreeducation to be a means of upward mobility which would benefit society as awhole (Drury, 2003). Theearly years of community college education focused on college prep and liberalarts curriculum that could be transferred to universities, with minimalattention given to occupational or vocational training (Drury, 2003).
Higher educationprofessional associations began to form to assist in the development of post-secondaryeducation. The American Association of Junior Colleges (AAJC), now known as theAmerican Association of Community Colleges, was founded in 1920 when juniorcolleges faced evolutional issues of image recognition, lack of respect from seniorlevel colleges and universities, and vision discrepancies among members (Drury, 2003). During thistime, the educational needs andbackgrounds of junior college students changed and expanded due to the women’s suffragemovement and the growing number of immigrants coming to the U.S. in the early1900s (Ratcliff, 2017).
Enrollment in community colleges began torise rapidly after the Great Depression, with enrollment more than doublingfrom 56,000 students to 150,000 students from 1929-1939 (Drury, 2003). Once more, legislation suchas the GI Bill of Rights and the Truman Commission assisted in making educationmore accessible to Americans to serve the masses and help break down the socialand financial barriers associated with higher education (Drury, 2003). Baby boomers increasedenrollment in the 1960s with two-year colleges expanding at the rate of one newcollege per week, and serving more than 4.5 million by the 1980s (Drury, 2003). Communitycolleges began focusing on specialized training and vocational programs inorder to create a niche to better compete against the four-year institutions (Drury, 2003). Communitycolleges today offer admission to any student who completes a secondaryeducation as well as assist adults wishing to complete their secondaryeducation (Ratcliff, 2017).
Theterm “community” attracts students not only because of geographicallocation but also the inclusive environment for learning it provides (Drury, 2003; Ratcliff, 2017).With over 50 percent of community colleges in the U.S. being rural, they areoften the only option for higher education in some regions (Swanger, 2013). As the workhorsesof higher education, community colleges assist students academically by providingdevelopmental courses, prepare students to transfer to four-year institutions, andproviding specialized workforce and jobs skills training (National Conference of StateLegislatures, 2014). They also serve a unique population ofnontraditional students including single parent, low-income, minority,part-time, first generation, and adult (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2014).
Since two-year colleges are the most accessible forms of higher education insome regions and are focused on the local community, they play a larger role incommunity and economic development (Swanger, 2013). While the purpose and structure of communitycolleges is stable, significant challenges are still to be faced such as lackof resources due to serving so many individuals and less than 50 percent ofstudents being successful in earning a credential or transferring to auniversity (National Conference of StateLegislatures, 2014; Swanger,2013). Concerning the future of communitycolleges, one suggestion for these institutions in the years to come are reevaluatingthe curriculum and incorporating positive changes toward the comprehensivemission of these institutions (Travis,1995). As the community college curriculum has evolved, curriculum changesin terms of transfer curriculum and vocational curriculum have occurred. Today,programs need to focus on the learning styles of their learners as well asaddress institutional barriers regarding accessibility to the curriculum, suchas inconvenient schedule of courses, constricting locations, and rigid feestructures relative to the unique populations they serve (Travis, 1995). The community college today offers anarray of programs including vocational, technical, and pre-professionalcertificates, and two-year associate degrees in general and liberal education aswell as emphasis on transfer curriculum, and a focus in a community service role(Ratcliff, 2017; Travis, 1995).
Now, over 1,100 community colleges in America exist, enrolling over 13 millionstudents each year (NationalConference of State Legislatures, 2014). Community colleges serveapproximately 44% of the nation’s undergraduate population and 50% of incomingfist year students (Drury,2003). Dueto most community colleges offering an open enrollment policy, this providesaccessibility to a greater number of students with minority students making up nearly47% (Drury, 2003). Over 80 percent of community college studentswork while attending college with 60 percent of students working more than 20hours a week (NationalConference of State Legislatures, 2014).
In 2011, community colleges grantedover 730,000 associate degrees and almost 430,000 certificates. In hopes thatmany, not just a few, individuals can live out their American Dream, theseinstitutions will maintain their missions to provide access to higher educationto all (Drury, 2003).