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Our History

Dedication to Excellent Education

Washington state's system of interconnected community and technical colleges had humble beginnings. Early in the 20th century, junior colleges launched independently of one another. Over the century, community and technical colleges gained in popularity and recognition among the communities they served. More colleges opened their doors to serve Washingtonians.

Washington's community and technical colleges' work aligns with its vision:

“Leading with racial equity, our colleges maximize student potential and transform lives within a culture of belonging that advances racial, social, and economic justice in service to our diverse communities.”

The state's 34 community and technical colleges proudly serve about 273,000 students every year. Our students' average age is 24 and 51% are students of color. Together, our colleges and their former students add $20.5 billion to the state’s economy each year.

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Washington's first junior college started in 1915 in Everett when 42 students began a one-year college program on the top floor of Everett High School. It closed in 1923 for lack of students. Centralia College, the state's oldest existing community college, opened in 1925. It was followed by Skagit Valley College in 1926, Yakima Valley Community College in 1928 and Grays Harbor College in 1930. By 1941 eight junior colleges were operating in Washington state, all locally administered and locally funded. Combined enrollment was about 1,000 students.

Meanwhile, in 1930, the Seattle School District opened Edison Vocational School, the first true, public vocational school in the state. The Spokane School District followed suit in 1939 with establishment of the Spokane Trade School. Both schools eventually became community colleges. The oldest existing vocational technical institute, Tacoma's Bates VTI, opened in 1940. Subsequently, VTIs opened in Clover Park, Pasco, Renton, Vancouver, Kirkland, Olympia and Bellingham. The VTIs in Pasco, Spokane, Vancouver and Olympia eventually became community colleges.

Today, the VTIs (now called "technical colleges") are Bates Technical College, Clover Park Technical College, Renton Technical College, Lake Washington Institute of Technology and Bellingham Technical College.

Between 1925 and 1941, the Legislature attempted three times to provide state support for junior colleges. State support was provided for the first time by the 1941 Legislature; however, that act restricted the number and location of junior colleges, prohibiting establishment in counties having either a public or private four-year institution. In 1945, junior colleges were made a part of their local school districts and supported through their funding.

In 1961, the state Legislature removed restrictions against expansion of community colleges. The same year, junior colleges were designated as "community" colleges, a term which first appeared in a 1947 Commission on Higher Education report to President Harry Truman. “A carefully developed program to strengthen higher education, taken together with a program for the support of elementary and secondary education, will inevitably strengthen our Nation and enrich the lives of our citizens,” Truman wrote about the report and the country’s education system.

The financing of community colleges was separated from that of local school districts in 1963, and in 1965 the Legislature declared that it intended to establish a separate, independent community college system. Based on the recommendations of the Arthur D. Little Company, the 1967 Legislature adopted the Community College Act of 1967 which was signed on April 3 of that year.

The structure of the community college system remained largely intact until 1991 when, as part of the Work Force Training and Education Act, the Legislature amended the Community College Act of 1967 and redesignated it as the Community and Technical College Act of 1991.

The state's five remaining public vocational technical institutes were designated as "technical colleges," removed from the jurisdiction of their local school districts, and merged with the community college system.

The Community and Technical College Act of 1991 brought the Seattle Vocational Institute (SVI) into the Seattle College District. Each technical college was provided with its own college district and a board of trustees. Each technical college district overlaps the districts of neighboring community colleges. The State Board for Community College Education was renamed the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges by the 1991 act.

In 1994, the Legislature approved the establishment of the 30th college district, Cascadia Community College, now Cascadia College. The new district began enrolling state-supported students in fall 2000.

Pierce College Puyallup became the system's 34th college when the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges granted it college status as part of the Pierce District in June 1999.

In 2005, the Legislature gave the State Board authority to offer applied baccalaureate programs in a pilot program at selected community and technical colleges. The 2010 Legislature removed the pilot status and gave the State Board authority to approve community and technical college applied baccalaureate degree programs.

In 2009, the Legislature allowed the five technical colleges to offer transfer degrees that prepare students for professional bachelor's degrees in addition to offering technical degrees.

Today, the Washington state system of community and technical colleges embodies its charge to “offer an open door to every citizen, regardless of his or her academic background or experiences, at a cost normally within his or her economic means.” These colleges are vital to the state’s educational goals, which recognize that higher education elevates Washington’s economy by elevating the lives of the people who live here.

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Last Modified: 9/13/23, 2:55 PM

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