Iowa’s Community Colleges Turn 50!

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The State of Iowa’s comprehensive community college system originated in its earliest form at the end of World War I.

In 1918, the Iowa legislature established the first junior college in Mason City when fewer than 40 junior colleges existed in the United States. At the time, the purpose of the junior college was to offer students an opportunity to complete the first two years of general education courses required for a Bachelor of Arts degree.

The wartime and Cold War eras that defined the U.S. from the 1940s – 1960s greatly influenced the development of the 21st Century community college system in Iowa. Historic federal G.I. Bill legislation created affordable opportunities for hundreds of thousands of returning World War II veterans to enroll in college, which subsequently led to increased enrollment in two-year junior colleges and vocational-technical schools, which were separate higher education systems from 1957 – 1965.

In 1965, Senate File 550 – championed by renowned Iowa Senator John “Jack” Kibbie – allowed junior colleges to unite with vocational-technical schools.

This landmark legislation established Iowa’s two-year community colleges and would later grant authority to the colleges to offer both vocational training and transferable associate’s degrees for students to continue their education at four-year institutions.

Additional legislation and amendments created 15 community college areas, or regions, in Iowa – with Northeast Iowa Community College (NICC) earning the first designation, Area 1, in 1966 – and the functions of the colleges and their governing boards evolved.

Locally elected trustees, whose representation was determined by the public K-12 school districts of their residence, began governing community colleges and their operations. State lawmakers later expanded the role of Iowa’s community colleges to include adult literacy, continuing education coursework and workforce development, in addition to transfer academic credit and career and technical certificate, diploma and degree programs.

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