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American Association of Community Colleges

History of the Association, The Twenty-First-Century Community College

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), a nonprofit, advocacy organization, represents nearly 1,200 two-year, associate degree-granting, public and private, community, junior, and technical institutions with more than 11 million students from diverse age groups and a variety of socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds. The AACC serves as the national voice for its member institutions and works with other higher education associations, the federal government, and national organizations to promote the goals of community colleges in particular and higher education in general. The association cites its mission as "building a nation of learners by advancing America’s community colleges." Its leadership is exercised through involvement in federal policy initiatives, advocating its national agenda externally and internally, doing research on community college issues, supporting educational services that promote professional growth, and building coordination with related-interest groups.

History of the Association

The founding of the association was a critical event in the early history of the two-year college movement. The American Association of Junior Colleges (AAJC) was founded in 1920 when Philander Claxton, U.S. commissioner of education, and George Zook, higher education specialist, brought together thirty-four junior college representatives in St. Louis, Missouri. As Michael Brick noted in his 1964 study, these represented the fledging but rapidly expanding and unique American junior college system, which emerged at the turn of the century to offer the first two years of university course work and later added occupational courses. Although it was expected that the AAJC would function as an accrediting body for the increasing number of junior colleges, be a forum for addressing issues, and serve as a source of mutual support among institutions, it did lead to the forging of a common identity and provided a forum for discussing the proper role and organization of junior colleges within higher education.

The association has grown significantly since 1920. In the early twenty-first century it is governed by a thirty-two-member board of directors, has twenty-one affiliate councils, and seven commissions. There have been seven chief executives, beginning with the appointment in 1922 of Doak S. Campbell, a former professor at George Peabody College and a junior college president, as executive secretary. The AAJC acquired greater national stature with the selection in 1938 of Walter Crosby Eells, a Stanford professor, who assumed the full-time position and relocated the organization to Washington, D.C. Succeeding Eells were former junior and community college presidents Jesse Bogue in 1946; Edmund J. Gleazer Jr., as executive director, in 1958; Dale Parnell, as president, in 1981; David Pierce in 1991; and George R. Boggs in 2000.

In 1930 the association began its own journal, with Eells as editor, which evolved into the Community College Journal. In the 1980s it established its own Community College Press and began the Community College Times, a biweekly newspaper, and thelegislative brief AACC Letter. With the creation of an Internet site in the mid-1990s, book publications, reports, press releases, policy briefs, national and state enrollment, and other data became available via that medium. Continued since the 1920s, the annual conference has evolved to focus on seminars for aspiring and new presidents, session presentations by researchers and practitioners, recognition of current and noted former outstanding community college students, and meetings of affiliated councils. In April 2001, at its annual meeting in Chicago, Illinois, the AACC celebrated 100 years of the existence of American community colleges by honoring the oldest continuous two- year college, Joliet Junior College, founded in 1901 in Joliet, Illinois.

As the number of two-year colleges grew and membership increased, the association underwent several name changes. These occurred after two phenomenal growth periods. One growth period occurred after World War II due to the combined effects of the return of thousands of military personnel, the enactment of the Servicemen's Readjustment Act in 1944 (G.I. Bill of Rights), and the release of President Truman's Commission on Higher Education Report in 1947, Higher Education for American Democracy. The Truman Report, as it became known, called for expanding educational opportunity to veterans, women, and low-income individuals; preparing students for lives of citizenship and work through a series of terminal degree programs; and renaming these institutions community colleges to reflect their responsiveness to their local communities. The latter suggestion, however, did not become popular until the 1960s.

Leland Medsker and Dale Tillery, in a 1971 study, described how the next enormous growth period followed the civil rights movement in the 1960s, when community colleges with their open access admissions policies grew more rapidly than any other segment of higher education. The creation of financial aid under the Higher Education Act of 1965, supported by the association, greatly accelerated educational access. Community college enrollments more than tripled between 1960 and 1970, as older people, women, people of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, veterans, people with disabilities, and low-income individuals went to college for the first time. As the U.S. Bureau of the Census's statistics show, this growth occurred almost entirely in the two-year public sector, enrolling 95 percent of all college students.

After more than 50 years as the American Association of Junior Colleges, the organization became the American Association of Junior and Community Colleges (AACJC) in 1972 to reflect the increasing name shift to community colleges and the highly expanded mission of technical and vocational education. In 1992 the AACJC became the American Association of Community Colleges, recognizing that its member institutions now referred to themselves almost exclusively as community colleges.

The Twenty-First-Century Community College

After a century of evolution of the junior college into the community college and almost ninety years as an association, the AACC has gone from representing 34 institutions to nearly 1,200 public and independent, comprehensive, and technical institutions in the twenty-first century. These institutions promote educational opportunity and access to college; offer lower, affordable tuition; and provide varied curricula for students of all ages. Curricular offerings include articulated transfer courses leading to the bachelor's degree; state-of-the-art technical and vocational certificate and associate degree programs leading directly to employment; contracted special skills courses for business and industry; non-credit adult education courses in basic literacy skills, General Educational Development (GED), English as a second language (ESL), and citizenship; concurrent enrollment courses for high school students; service-learning and school-to-work internship opportunities; innovative distance-learning options; continuing education programs; community development service programs; and partnership programs with four-year institutions, such as teacher preparation.

Community colleges also provide professional academic and career guidance; a range of financial assistance; many academic and student support services; flexible day, evening, off- campus, and weekend class meeting times; and distance-learning courses to accommodate diverse scheduling needs. Located in urban, suburban, and rural areas to serve local constituents, community colleges vary widely in their size, type, organization, and governance, from affiliation with state universities to multicampus districts and single institutions with locally elected governing boards. As of 2000, approximately one-third of all higher education institutions were community colleges, nearly half of all undergraduates were community college students, and almost two-thirds of them were from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. Thus, the AACC represents a highly diversified and still-changing constituency.


BRICK, MICHAEL. 1964. Forum and Focus for the Junior College Movement. New York: Bureau of Publications, Teachers College, Columbia University.

BRINT, STEVEN, and KARABEL, JEROME. 1989. The Diverted Dream: Community Colleges and the Promise of Educational Opportunity in America, 1900–1985. New York: Oxford University Press.

DIENER, THOMAS. 1986. Growth of An American Invention: A Documentary History of the Junior and Community College Movement. New York: Greenwood Press.

GOODWIN, GREGORY. 1971. "The Historical Development of the Community-Junior College Ideology." Ph.D. diss., University of Illinois.

MEDSKER, LELAND, and TILLERY, DALE. 1971. Breaking the Access Barrier. New York: McGraw-Hill.

U.S. BUREAU OF THE CENSUS. 1975. Historical Statistics of the United States: Colonial Times to 1970. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

VAUGHAN, GEORGE B. 2000. The Community College Story. Washington, DC: Community College Press.

WILDS, DEBORAH J. 2000. Minorities in Higher Education 1999–2000. Seventeenth Annual Status Report. Washington, DC: American Council on Education.




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