Have you ever heard the term “junior college” and wondered what it was? It’s not a term heard very often anymore, but you may still run into it once in a while. What is now a community college was once a junior college. However, the two are now very different things, and few true junior colleges still exist. You may still find a few out there if you look closely enough and hard enough, though.

The Junior College Concept

In the 1950s, it was becoming apparent that the traditional university model of post-secondary education was inaccessible to a majority of students. In some cases, a 4-year university was too expensive for families to afford for their children. In other cases, the children weren’t academically prepared to go right from high school to a traditional university. The junior college concept grew out of a desire among education reformers to meet the needs of those students.

The invention of the junior college was ingenious. It built a bridge between high school and a 4-year university that most students could traverse. Junior colleges were two-year institutions that allowed students to stay home for a while after high school and become academically prepared to enter the world of the university. It also gave families extra time to save for a university and for students to earn money or apply for scholarships that would pay for the remainder of their university education. Junior colleges were essentially extensions of high school, and many of the first ones were located on high school campuses. As more and more students enrolled in junior colleges, they began to open their own buildings.

Early Junior Colleges and University Relationships

Most of the early junior colleges were affiliated with one nearby 4-year university. There was often some kind of agreement between the junior college and the university that the university would accept graduating junior college students without the need for them to meet the rigorous admissions requirements imposed on students who started out at the university as freshmen. Junior colleges were also governed by the university with which they affiliated. As the junior college project grew bigger and more popular, they gradually broke away from their affiliated universities and developed their own governing structures.

The Evolution of Junior Colleges

At first, accreditation was provided to the junior college by association with its affiliated university. This gave the Associate’s degrees the colleges awarded much needed legitimacy. As junior colleges became less dependent on their associated universities and took on a life of their own, they began to get their own accreditation. They began to be more than just higher level extensions of high school. Junior colleges started to be accepted as institutions of higher learning in their own right by the 1970s. The education they offered was of high quality, and it gradually became the norm to consider junior colleges as the first two years of a university education rather than as two extra years of high school. This is when junior colleges began to change into the community colleges we know today.

From Junior College to Community College

Junior colleges have gradually made the transition to full-service institutions in their own right. Most of them now offer Associate-to-career degrees and certificates that can qualify a student for a particular career. Some of them also offer 4-year degrees in conjunction with 4-year schools without the need for the student to leave the 2-year campus. Because junior colleges now serve the community rather than just recently graduated high school students, they have made the change to being called community colleges.

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