Community colleges have gotten a lot of attention over the past year, generating widespread discussion in the business community, the academic community and especially in the White House. Early this month, the 91st annual meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) held in New Orleans, took a look back at how community colleges first came into existence — and a glimpse forward at what lies ahead. You might be surprised at the similarities.
The community college program is 110 years old. According to the AACC, most historians point to the founding of Joliet Junior College, near Chicago, in 1901, as the beginning of this popular program. As the AACC notes, “…the roots of this uniquely American contribution to higher education [lie] in a social movement that widely broadened access to higher education and training opportunities to students who would not otherwise have had the opportunity to attend college due to economic, mobility and social barriers.” Today, Joliet Junior College is the oldest community college still in operation.
The term “community college” was first used in 1947. Harry Truman was president and World War II was over. The Truman Commission report was the first time the term “community colleges” was used. It recommended that the community college program be expanded to every state to meet the educational and training needs of returning veterans as well as the country’s growing need for skilled workers in a rapidly shifting economy.
Today, there are close to 1,200 accredited community college programs throughout the country and there is a community college within a short commute of 90 percent of the U.S. population. And now, as then, community colleges are providing training for returning veterans, and continue to playing an essential role in preparing the nation’s workforce to meet the needs of changing local economies.
The community college has even gone global. Our “uniquely American” education model can now be found around the world. According to the AACC, community colleges can now be found in Saudia Arabia, Qatar, Vietanam, Thailand and the Republic of Georgia. In addition, the AACC has signed cooperative agreements with postsecondary education systems in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands.
What lies ahead for community colleges? Plenty. Check out the keynote address
delivered by AACC President Dr. Walter Bumphus at this month’s annual meeting. Dr. Bumphus said it best: “Never in more than 100 years of service have [community colleges] been more visible or valued.”