While most of us have grown up with community colleges in our backyards, they are a relatively new phenomenon in higher education, having evolved in the early part of the 20th century. NISOD was formed in 1978. Since then, community colleges have continued to play an  integral role in higher education. Take a look back on 40 years of growth in community colleges since the beginning of NISOD!


  • In 1978, at the American Association of Community Colleges’ annual conference, the idea of identifying best teaching practices and disseminating these practices in print to community colleges across the nation was born. A W.K. Kellogg Foundation Program Officer asked, “What are you doing to disseminate good practices to the field?” John Roueche, then Director of The University of Texas’ Community College Leadership Program, agreed that while useful information was available, practitioners’ time to delve into published research reports was likely limited, no matter how creatively the reports were prepared. Consequently, NISOD was conceived conceptually and sketched out graphically on a paper napkin during a breakfast meeting as a means to identify and disseminate best teaching practices to community college practitioners.
  • The 1970s saw part-time enrollments in higher education reach new peaks. In some states, part-time enrollment reached as high as 80 percent of total enrollment. These part-time students were often older than traditional college students; most worked full- or part-time; many were women (Carroll, McCormick, 1995).
  • The 1970s marked a considerable shift in faculty development, including more instructional training for the unique student body and mission of community colleges (Russo, 2010).
  • Community colleges were trying to find their way and establish credibility with the public who were at times skeptical of institutions that looked physically more like high schools than college campuses and did not offer the baccalaureate degree (Kelsay, Zamani-Gallaher, 2014).
  • Community colleges became a major part of the American educational system, with enrollments almost doubling from 2.2 million in 1970 to 4.3 million by 1980 (Kasper, 2002).


  • During the 1980s, community colleges began to work more closely with high schools to prepare students for vocational and technical two-year programs (Russo, 2010).
  • The American Association of Community and Junior Colleges (AACJC) reported in 1982 that the nation’s community, technical, and junior colleges employed more than 651,606 full- and part-time teaching faculty (Vaughn, 1986).
  • The AACJC’s “Policy Statement on the Associate Degree,” issued in July 1984, reaffirms the associate degree: “As central to the mission of the community, technical, and junior college, the associate degree indicates to faculty, administrators, students, and society that the community, technical, and junior college has a vision of what it means to be an educated person and affirms the college’s commitment to program continuity, coherence, and completion” (Vaughn, 1986).


  • In July 1999, the U.S. Department of Education announced a grant to the Education Commission of the States to establish the Center for Community College Policy. This center focuses on effective community college policies and practices. The center is the first in the nation to target community college public policy issues that are the focus of state and national policymakers, including providing access for an increasing number of students seeking postsecondary education, containing costs for postsecondary education, effectively training displaced workers, training people coming off welfare, providing additional training for teachers, and providing leadership for state and community economic development effort (Hurst, Tan, Meek, Sellers, 2003).
  • In 1999-2000, 62 percent of public community colleges had an open admissions policy, compared to 7.5 percent of public 4-year colleges (Digest of Education Statistics, 2000, Table 312).


  • During the 2000-01 school year, tuition and fees at public community colleges averaged $1,416. There was an increase of $100 from the 1999-00 school year (Digest of Education Statistics, 2000, Table 318).
  • About 41 percent of the associate degrees granted in 2000-2001 were in liberal, general studies, and humanities, accounting for a larger share of associate degrees than any other field (Community College FAQs, 2016).
  • The first significant effort to improve student completion in community colleges was set in motion by Lumina Foundation for Education in 2004, with the launch of the national Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count initiative. The goal of the initiative is to help more community college students succeed, especially students of color, working adults, and students from low-income families (Prihoda, 2012).


  • Across the United States there are 1,462 community colleges. Of these, 1,047 are public institutions and 415 private institutions (Digest of Education Statistics, 2001, Table 244).
  • Among all students who completed a degree at a four-year college in 2015–16, 49 percent had enrolled at a two-year college in the previous 10 years (National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 2017).
  • In January of 2015, President Obama unveiled his “American College Promise” program, a plan to make two years of community college education available free of charge to “everyone who’s willing to work for it” (Trainor, 2015).


Community College FAQs. (2016). Retrieved from https://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu/Community-College-FAQs.html

Hurst, D., Tan, A., Meek, A., & Sellers, J. (2003). Overview and Inventory of State Education Reforms: 1990 to 2000(pp. 1-120, Rep.). Washington, D.C.: U.S Department of Education.

Kasper, H. (2002). The Changing Role of Community College[PDF]. Occupational Outlook Quarterly.

Kelsay , L., & Zamani- Gallaher, E. (2014). Working with students in community colleges: contemporary strategies for bridging theory, research, and practice. Sterling, VA: ACPA College Student Educators International, Stylus.

McCormik, A. C., & Carroll, C. D. (1995). Profile of Part-Time Undergraduates in Post-Secondary Education(pp. 1-70, Rep.). Washington D.C.: US. Department Of Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. 95173)

Prihoda, J. J. (2011). Presidents and analysts discuss contemporary challenges. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Russo, C. J. (2010). Encyclopedia of law and higher education. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Table 244. Percent of colleges and universities using various selection criteria for admission, by type and control of institution: 1999-2001 [Chart]. (2001). In Digest of Education Statistics. Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics.

Table 312. Percent of colleges and universities using various selection criteria for admission, by type and control of institution: 1990-91 to 1999-2000 [Chart]. (2000). In Digest of Education Statistics(p. 1). National Center for Education Statistics.

Table 318. Percent of colleges and universities using various selection criteria for admission, by type and control of institution: 1990-91 to 1999-2000 [Chart]. (2000). In Digest of Education Statistics. Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics.

The NCES Fast Facts Tool provides quick answers to many education questions (National Center for Education Statistics). (2017). Retrieved March, from https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=72

Trainor, S. (2015, October 20). How Community Colleges Have Changed Education in the U.S. Retrieved from http://time.com/4078143/community-college-history/

Vaughn, G. (1986). The Community College in America: A Short History.[PDF]. Washington, D.C.: American Association of Community and Junior Colleges.