Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Joliet Junior, First Independent Public Junior College

The origin of public junior colleges can be dated back to the early 1900's. In an attempt to reorganize the higher educational system, several leading university presidents began to contemplate the idea of a two-year junior college system. In essence, this project would establish a space for higher education to interested high school graduates, while separating the role of the university to the research and studies of the intellectual elite (Brint and Karabel, 1989).

As an extension to the high school curriculum, junior colleges would offer students an additional two-years of general education leading to the completion of an associate's degree. This, in turn, would offer opportunities for additional education to students who were not serious about higher education research. The concept was successful, and in 1901, Joliet Junior College opened in Chicago. Joliet was the first independent public junior college in the United States (Brint and Karabel 1989). Nearly a century later, the number of students entering junior college prior to a four-year university has vastly grown. In fact, there are over 900 public two-year colleges which serve at least 4 million students in the United States today.

The whispers of this new higher educational movement were beginning to be heard as early as the 1850's. At that time, an early reform movement began to propose the idea of a junior college, especially as a potential avenue for economic success among the general public. Between 1880 and 1885 books such as The Law of Success and The Art of Money Getting were being published, encouraging the public to buy into the idea of becoming an overnight success. However, the state of the nation forced such notions emerging in popular culture to shift from the idea of going from "rags to riches" to succeeding through education. This was due, in part, to the overwhelming changes in population, technological advancements, and the economic boom taking place at the dawn of the 20th century.

Several decades later, junior colleges play a slightly different role in the higher education system than they did when they were first established. During the 1970's, for example, community colleges focused primarily on vocational enrolment, rather than a general education growing out of the high school curriculum. This was due in part to issues such as the market decline, state fiscal crises, and the political ascendance of conservative business leaders. By the 1990s, junior colleges frequently serve as a financially optimal stepping stone between high school and a four-year college for many students. As a result, junior colleges continue to play an important role in offering the public access to quality higher education in the United States.


Brint, Steven & Karabel, Jerome (1989). The Diverted Dream: Community Colleges & the Promise of Educational Opportunity in America, 1900-1985. New York: Oxford University Press.

Elena Guerrero, 1998

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