The community college is quintessentially an American creation. Early in the Twentieth Century, William Rainey Harper, president of the University of Chicago, was instrumental in establishing in 1901 what is generally recognized as the longest continuously serving community college, Joliet Junior College.
Many of the early junior colleges were small and focused on transfer, with program offering in the liberal arts. They were regarded as an alternate track into the university. During the Twentieth Century, trade or technical schools were also developing to offer certificates and two year terminal degrees in occupational areas. In the latter half of the Twentieth Century, each of these types of colleges added the other component to create the comprehensive community college with offerings in both the liberal arts and occupational training. Since their inception, wherever they have been established these community colleges have always been the communities’ colleges.
Offerings at community colleges today both reflect the communities’ needs and anticipate the communities’ requirements. As one would expect, these offerings vary from location to location, with what is needed in one situation being inappropriate in another. Because I have been fortunate to spend my career in community colleges, I have had direct responsibility for creating diverse degree programs, targeted to meet the communities’ needs. At Nashville State Community College, we developed a robotics program specifically to meet the needs of Nissan as it opened the first automotive assembly plant in the South, with 220 functioning robots at opening. At the Technical College of the Lowcountry located in a resort/retirement community, we developed a recreational management program complete with a tennis team. Each offering reflected and anticipated the needs of the community that the college served.
In the Twenty-First Century, community colleges are adept at meeting and anticipating the needs of their communities, in both technical and liberal arts. Asheville Buncombe Technical Community College developed composites training for the aviation industry, and Hagerstown Community College offers Cybersecurity degrees. Almost all community colleges have strong articulation agreements to facilitate their students transfer to universities.
Wherever they are located, the local community colleges are truly the communities’ colleges, providing a port of entry into higher education, technical workforce skills, developmental studies, contract training, community interest, and in some states adult education.
A retired community college president, Anne S. McNutt is Executive Director of the Community Colleges of Appalachia. As managing partner of Shoemaker & Associates education search practice, she assists community colleges to recruit key leaders.