What is a Junior College?

The terms “Junior College” and “Community College” are often used interchangeably in the United States. In reality, they are not the same thing. Some of the confusion stems from the fact that many community colleges began as junior colleges. Why did they change their names, and is there any difference in courses that are taught at the schools?

Definition of a Junior College

According to Wikipedia, junior colleges are “two-year post-secondary schools whose main purpose is to provide academic, vocational and professional education.”  The highest degree awarded at this level is the associate degree. In addition, students can earn a certificate in a vocational skill. These schools are eligible for federal and state financial aid and so they are accredited. That means credits will usually transfer to a four-year institution. At some point many of the schools changed their names to community colleges to express the connection they had to the areas where they were located. When we speak of a junior college, we usually mean a community college.

History of Two-Year Colleges

Joliet College was the first two-year public school to open in the US. It was meant to function as an additional two years of secondary education, the thirteenth and fourteenth years, to prepare students to finish their junior and senior years at a four-year university. The schools somehow got the reputation of accepting students who were not capable of entering college, and who must settle for vocational training. The colleges did offer “Voc Ed,” but they also still served as preparatory schools for universities, and some were even affiliated with universities.

Eventually, most two-year colleges became known as community colleges and the few that did not were private institutions. The website of the American Association of Community Colleges says that these schools, today comprising less than a tenth of the number of two-year schools in the country, teach a particular area or skill and students do not have to take courses that are not needed. There also are military two-year schools through which Army reservists may become officers in two instead of four years. The soldiers must still complete a four-year degree before assuming active duty.

Is the Concept Still Relevant?

Many students use the schools to make certain they are ready for a university, but more and more students are learning skills that prepare them for jobs. In the 2013-2014 school year, community colleges awarded 795,235 associate degrees and 494,995 certificates.

There are almost 1,200 two-year colleges. Of these, 982 are public, 90 are private and 36 are tribal. Almost 50 percent of high school graduates attend a community college. In addition to college preparatory and vocational training, community colleges offer not-for-credit courses to the adults of the area where they are located. People can take classes in the fine arts or in finance, in computer science or in a foreign language, among other subjects. Community college instructors serve as speakers and consultants in the community as well.

President Obama added to his wish list the idea that someday all Americans would receive a free associate degree. This may not happen soon, but it is an idea worth exploring. Today, most jobs require some type of post-secondary education. The Community, or Junior College, contributes much to the area where it is located, and allows students to get needed training to become successful community members.