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Published: July 5, 2011

Junior college

A two-year, postsecondary institution of higher education with programs leading to ASSOCIATE DEGREES in the arts and sciences. The forerunner of COMMUNITY COLLEGES and often used as a generic term for all twoyear colleges, the junior college differs from the community college in that it tends to be private and to accept, and provide boarding facilities for, students from beyond its immediate geographic area. Junior colleges also tend to focus on the arts and sciences and offer no vocational or technical studies.
Some junior colleges evolved after the Civil War as special-purpose schools for nursing, mechanics and other occupational skills that required only two years of postsecondary education. Others emerged from a process of institutional growth or shrinkage. Thus, some academies grew into colleges while some colleges, which lasted only three years then, either contracted into two-year colleges or expanded into four-year institutions. At the time, schools of medicine, law and other professions required only two years of college for admission, and junior colleges provided a perfect academic bridge from high school for future professionals. After professional schools imposed bachelor- degree requirements at the end of the 19th century, junior colleges assumed new roles in American education. Some served low achievers who had not fulfilled their secondary school academic requirements for admission to fouryear colleges. Junior colleges offered low achievers the opportunity of obtaining the needed qualifications and then transferring into the second or third year of four-year colleges, where they could complete their work for a bachelor’s degree.
Other junior colleges served the growing demands of women for higher education. At the time, most four-year colleges were all-male institutions that barred women. The few fouryear colleges for women were selective schools that admitted only the most brilliant scholars. Junior colleges offered an alternative: two years of so-called finishing school that offered a broad-based education in the liberal arts and 20th-century culture—the equivalent of what had been, during the early 19th century, the standard college education for most men. After World War II, the emergence of low-cost, public two-year community colleges cost private junior colleges many of their students. As the number of community colleges and branch campuses more than tripled to more than 1,000 and as public four-year colleges expanded the number of their campuses and converted to open enrollment, the need for nonprofit junior colleges declined and their number shrank from nearly 200 to about 140 by 2000. In addition, a new category of two-year college appeared in the mid-1990s to compete with junior colleges: the for-profit two-year school, which offered onand off-campus education and on-line DISTANCE LEARNING more conveniently and at far lower costs than junior colleges. Indeed, by 2005, the number of two-year proprietary colleges had soared to more than 600.