Junior Colleges and Technical Institutes

SIC 8222

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This classification includes junior colleges and technical institutes offering academic or technical courses and granting associate degrees, certificates, or diplomas. The minimum requirement for admission is a high school diploma or equivalent general academic training. Schools having junior college grades in conjunction with secondary grades are classified in SIC 8211: Elementary and Secondary Schools.

Industry Snapshot

In 2011 some 1,132 community college institutions in the United States offered courses at the junior, community, or technical college level to about 13 million students, according to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). This type of institution is often referred to as a two-year college, although this designation only pertains to establishments that provide students with an associate's degree. Students at these institutions pay relatively low tuition rates compared to tuition charged by colleges and universities. Federal, state, and local appropriations and grants support public community colleges, which accounted for about 70 percent of these schools in the early 2010s, while private community colleges receive funds from a variety of sources.

Community and technical colleges are considered more convenient for students because they offer options for full-time, part-time, day, evening, weekend, and co-op associate degree programs, which are especially helpful to those with full-time employment and family obligations. The majority of students at these institutions are enrolled part-time. The open-door policy of these colleges, which allows admission to individuals with a high school diploma or equivalent, provides higher education to people whose circumstances might otherwise prevent them from obtaining a degree. In addition to the comparably lower tuition fees, two-year college students' expenses are usually lower due to savings on room and board costs, since many students live at home rather than on campus.

Organization and Structure

Community colleges and technical institutes are either private or public. Among private schools, many are administered by religious groups. There are also independent nonprofit institutions and proprietary institutes that are owned by individuals or groups. Since the funding for these schools does not come from public funds, they are relatively free to set their own priorities and form their own curricula. If they wish to receive accreditation from the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges (AACJC), however, they must fulfill specific requirements.

Most community colleges are public. Federal funding for community colleges comes in the form of either appropriations or grants. The Vocational Education Act of 1963, Title III of the Higher Education Act of 1965, and the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act of 1973 established appropriations to be awarded to schools. Federal grants are awarded to students for tuition and other needs. Forms and amounts of state and local funding vary widely. The amount of money the federal, state, or local community provides is a constant matter of controversy, along with the degree to which programming decisions are tied to funding. Members of a local school board may believe that they possess the greatest understanding of student needs and interests in their community, but when the state provides funding, there is often a state board of education that exercises authority.

There are at least five functions performed by community colleges: academic transfer preparation, vocational education, continuing education, remedial education, and community service. Academic transfer preparation programs are designed for students whose academic performance in high school did not meet four-year college admission standards. These programs offer students an opportunity to prove their academic abilities and develop in a particular field of study, with the goal of gaining admission and transferring to a four-year college to earn a baccalaureate degree. Some schools have established honors programs within academic transfer programs for students who demonstrate high academic potential.

Vocational or technical education is designed for students who have a particular career goal in mind. Subjects ranging from cosmetology to word processing are taught in these programs. The two-year degree offered by a community college typically is the culmination of a vocational student's educational career.

Continuing education is designed for adults who are interested in taking courses for career or academic reasons. Continuing education students often maintain full-time jobs while attending community college. Remedial education is designed for students with developmental or learning disabilities or students who received an inadequate secondary education. Community service programs consist of short courses, workshops, and noncredit courses.

Background and Development

The community college is a strictly U.S. phenomenon. It is the most substantial element of the nation's educational system that is not based on a European model. The first junior college was established in 1896 as a division of the University of Chicago by William Rainey Harper, the result of an idea that emerged from the frustration of many university administrators who were concerned with devoting valuable class time to freshman and sophomores. Subsequent development of the junior college, however, occurred more at the grassroots level than within the university community. During the first decade of the twentieth century, some high schools began offering courses for graduates who remained in the area instead of going away to college. As the idea spread from state to state, private junior colleges dominated public ones, and, depending on the region, certain colleges emphasized agricultural or industrial education. The two years after high school were regarded as the final stage in the transition into adulthood so many educators felt these years were best spent in the home and in the community.

The democratic ideal that education should be available to all who seek it fueled what became known as the "Junior College Movement." After World War II, many veterans took advantage of the GI Bill by pursuing a government-sponsored education without leaving their communities. As baby boomers reached the ages of 19 and 20 during the 1960s, they filled junior colleges beyond their capacity, which resulted in a simultaneous growth in the budgets and staffs at these institutions. With this growth, public junior colleges overtook private ones in number and size. California became the first state in the nation to establish a statewide junior college system. By the 1976-77 school year, there were 1,030 public junior colleges in the United States, compared to 203 private ones. By this time, the schools saturated almost every region of the country, and subsequent growth slowed considerably. Many of the two-year colleges that opened were designated as a "community college" rather than as a "junior college," and administrators began to stress the change in focus that accompanied this change in name.

Two-year colleges tend to be much more diverse than their four-year counterparts because they include students of all ages, races, and economic backgrounds. Almost 50 percent of all undergraduates in the United States attend two-year institutions, and more than 50 percent of first-time freshman begin their higher education at a community college.

The issue of funding for community colleges was hotly debated during the economic recession of the early 1990s. Because this community concern has national ramifications, all three of the major presidential candidates visited community colleges during the 1992 campaign, pledging to uphold the institutions with tax dollars. Ross Perot, a former student in the community college system himself, was an especially vociferous supporter. Nevertheless, community colleges suffered along with all other recipients of federal dollars. In order to cope, many schools established fund-raising campaigns targeting former students, local businesses, and businesses that traditionally supported educational growth.

Curriculum was another issue that divided community colleges, with student diversity presenting a key challenge. With such diversity came distinct and sometimes conflicting expectations of postsecondary education. Some students and faculty pushed for a new balance between vocational training and liberal education, which had always been debated by community college administrators.

As efforts to curtail government spending increased in the 1980s and early 1990s, funds for public community colleges began to fall short of their needs, and the schools began to turn to other sources for funding. Corporate donations became more common, especially at technical institutes. Some schools had success with fund-raising campaigns similar to those of colleges and universities. As financial challenges continued, administrators began debating the possibility of increasing tuition or restricting admission. While both options would save money, they went against the principles of affordability and accessibility on which community colleges had rested since their creation early in the twentieth century. Other schools considered eliminating their special education divisions and facilities for students with learning disabilities, but it such decisions had the potential to undermine the intentions of the institutions.

With the proliferation of computer and video technology, some community colleges began experimenting with nontraditional teaching methods, including 24-hour learning laboratories; lectures delivered on closed-circuit, cable, or public television; and computer conferences. Such programs were aimed at meeting the needs of students whose work schedules conflicted with course schedules, as well as students who were unable to commute to school for a variety of other reasons. Such innovations were considered to be a way of keeping pace with technological developments, especially in the field of computers. By the end of the first decade of the 2000s, many community colleges offered courses online.

In the early 1990s, community colleges began reevaluating their curricula. It was determined that fewer students were earning associate degrees and less than a quarter were transferring to four-year colleges. The pattern that many students seemed to be following was horizontal rather than vertical. This behavior was attributed to student scheduling conflicts and career considerations, rather than a lack of ambition or inability to pursue a goal. Community colleges tried to address these problems by providing alternative means of participating in class, often using modern technology. For instance, community college libraries were being transformed into "resource centers."

While funding was readily available for computer and video equipment in the early 1980s, the recession of the late 1980s and early 1990s resulted in limited resources for community colleges. Consequently, community colleges were often unable to maintain a constant investment in rapidly developing technology. Heavy investment in the area of computer software, for example, was considered a risky endeavor since nobody could predict which systems would endure. In order to remain current, some colleges initiated partnerships with local software companies or companies that targeted the offices and workplaces of their community. This allowed community college students to develop computer literacy on the equipment of a particular company, often in a setting that resembled an office. Mutual use of network communications technology, such as e-mail and the Internet, was another partnership with the corporate world that was an effective way for community colleges to obtain expensive technology without relying on government funds.

Because community colleges have a large number of minority students, especially in urban areas, the question of changing curriculum, such as including an ethnic studies program, was raised starting in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The debate about curriculum was comparable to the question of revising the canon of literary classics at colleges and universities. Community colleges, however, did not prove to be a radical force for change in the academic curriculum. Students interested in vocational training were naturally not as insistent about bringing nontraditional works into the classroom, and students who planned to transfer to four-year institutions feared that the study of anything other than the established curriculum might jeopardize their chances. Students at many four-year universities, however, demanded ethnic studies programs, and many institutions implemented such programs.

While public funding for many four-year colleges and universities was cut during the early years of the first decade of the 2000s, financial support was increased for some two-year schools. The money was needed to respond to growing enrollment, as in 2003 and 2004, when growth averaged 6.5 percent. Students were attracted to the affordability of two-year schools, with an average tuition of $2,191 in 2006 compared to $5,836 for a four-year public school. In addition, access to four-year colleges and universities was shrinking. The growth was also attributed to the "baby boom echo," an increased birthrate that began in 1977. The number of associate degrees awarded annually increased 20 percent between the 1990-91 and 2000-01 school years, growing from 482,000 to 579,000. In 2006, 486,293 associate degrees and 235,999 two-year certificates were awarded.

By the middle of the first decade of the 2000s, more students under the age of 22 were enrolling at two-year institutions, according to U.S. Department of Education, although the average age in 2006 was 29. Students in the under-22 age group accounted for 42 percent of community college enrollment, up from 32 percent 10 years earlier. The majority of students were enrolled in registered nursing programs, licensed practical nursing programs, radiology programs, law enforcement, or computer technology programs.

During the 2002-03 school year, 1,200 two-year colleges reported that international student enrollment had grown 60 percent during the prior decade, from more than 60,000 to almost 97,000. An economic downturn in the United States and Asia was the guiding force, rather than direct appeals to students by community colleges. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, a survey of schools in 2000 found that no more than 41 percent advertised abroad.

According to Dun and Bradstreet's 2009 Industry Reports, junior colleges in the United States comprised a $14 billion industry. States accounting for the most schools and the most revenues included California, with $1.7 billion in revenues; Texas with $1.3 billion; Indiana with $1.2 billion; and New Jersey with $1.1 billion. The AACC reported that of the 11.7 million students enrolled in junior colleges, 5 million were enrolled in noncredit classes and 6.7 million took classes for credit. About 60 percent attended part-time, and 50 percent of those who attended part-time had a full-time job. The average age of junior college students was 29, while those under 21 accounted for 47 percent of enrollees. In 2008, 612,915 associate degrees and 328,628 certificates were awarded by junior colleges in the United States.

Current Conditions

By 2011 the average annual tuition at public junior colleges was $2,963, compared to $8,244 at four-year colleges. According to the AACC, more people were choosing to attend community and junior colleges because of costs, especially as the U.S. economy struggled to recover from a recession at the end of the first decade of the 2000s. Of the 1,132 junior colleges, 986 were public, 115 were independent, and 31 were tribal (located on or near American Indian reservations). The junior college population comprised 54 percent white students, 16 percent Hispanic students, 14 percent black students, 6 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, 1 percent Native American, and 10 percent other ethnicities. Of all students enrolled in 2011, 42 percent were the first in their families to attend college. Of all undergraduates enrolled in post-secondary education in the United States in 2011, 44 percent were enrolled in junior college. Native Americans accounted for 54 percent of junior college students, Hispanics comprised 51 percent, and blacks made up 44 percent.


Community college faculty and administrators have long had to cope with the impression that their schools are somehow less legitimate or consequential than four-year institutions. According to Dale Parnell, a former chief executive officer of the AACJC, for too many educators "the highest calling in teaching is an Ivy League university. If you can't teach there, then in a state college or another four-year institution. If you can't do that, teach in a community college. If not there, then teach in high school." Frustration with this pecking order is often formidable. Along with being accorded less respect, teachers at junior or community colleges earn lower salaries than their counterparts at four-year colleges and universities. The faculty at community colleges often comprises younger teachers who, like their students, are hoping to transfer to four-year institutions. Teachers complain that their students have not been adequately prepared during their secondary education to handle college material, that high student-to-teacher ratios make it extremely difficult to perform their classroom duties and keep abreast of developments in their field, and that their reputation as second-rate professionals hampers their performance. To boost morale among teachers, some community colleges established programs for recognizing and rewarding excellence.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 777,880 people were employed by junior colleges in 2010. About 60 percent of employees worked as instructors, with an average annual wage for teachers of $63,910.

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