The American community college had a humble beginning in 1906 at Joliet, Ill., when only six students enrolled. But the institution grew rapidly and became a powerful movement in higher education. Clark Kerr, a former president of the University of California and a national educational leader, labeled the community college as the greatest innovation of 20th century American higher education.
And who can dispute that conclusion? Today American community colleges enroll over 8 million for-credit students. Forty percent of all undergraduates enrolled in colleges and universities in the United States are in community colleges.
What accounts for this phenomenal growth? Many factors contribute to this success, but the central foundation is that the community college fulfills the American democratic ideal articulated in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” Until the community college came along with its basic commitment to open access, higher education was not open to all. Suddenly, the doors were open to the older student, the student with limited income, the part-time student who had to work, the high school graduate who sought a second chance. <Read more.>