The Transformation of Higher Education in the 1960s: Master Plans, Community Colleges, and Emerging Universities

By Scott, David W. | Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

The Transformation of Higher Education in the 1960s: Master Plans, Community Colleges, and Emerging Universities


Scott, David W., Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society


In 1955 Illinois Governor William Stratton and the General Assembly established the Higher Education Commission made up of legislators, public school leaders, and presidents of public and private colleges and universities. Its charge was to "make a thorough investigation, study and survey of the problems facing Illinois higher education, public and private, which will be occasioned by the great increase in enrollment expected in the next decade. The provision of adequate facilities for the higher education of its youth is one of the most important responsibilities of the state; and ways must be found to discharge this responsibility in the most economical and effective manner."1

Commission Plans for Higher Education

In 1957 the Commission issued its report. The demographic basis for the Commission's recommendations was increase in enrollments underway and projected for Illinois colleges and universities. All the Commission members had to do was look at the rapid growth in elementary school enrollment, which reflected the annual increase in births in the state starting in 1946. The Commission's report cited expansion of the number of jobs for which college training was needed, or at least thought appropriate, and it recognized and supported the growing participation of youth from lower-middle and lower income backgrounds in post-secondary education. It identified strong needs for many more scientists and engineers and for teachers at all levels.

The Commission gave much attention to junior (that is, two-year) college expansion. At that time in Chicago, four public junior college campuses were in operation and four more were about to open. Outside Chicago, however, there were only ten public junior colleges, and they were geographically limited to the boundaries of school districts with a high school. Only such school districts were authorized by state law to provide public junior college programs. At the state level, the junior colleges were under the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, which was concerned mainly with elementary and secondary education. Such colleges were established to provide vocational and technical programs geared to the training needs of local employers as well, as the first two years of a fouryear liberal arts curriculum. Public junior colleges were also to provide "a means of screening those not able to benefit from college work,"2 - that is, to "cool off" the higher education ambitions of the academically inferior student. As "open door" colleges, they allowed the whole system of higher education to be "democratic" - that is non-selective - while allowing universities to impose varying degrees of selectivity in admissions.3

The two-year colleges were to be low-cost to the student and the student's family. Students could continue to live at home; the programs were financed by local taxes, state aid, and low tuition. The Commission called for a major expansion of two-year college availability across the state by means of the state's expanding its financing of operating and capital expenses. Such an approach would be less expensive to the state and more efficient overall than concentrating expansion expenses at the four-year state colleges and universities.

So would the Commission's second recommendation, which called for the creating of state scholarships for students with financial need and academic ability. Such scholarships would make it more financially feasible for qualified students to choose a private college or university where tuition costs were higher than in a public institution of higher learning. Such scholarships were particularly needed to maintain the competitive position of the private sector, given the low-cost alternative to be generated by the expansion of public colleges and universities. Although the state had no authority over the missions, plans, programs, and budgets of the private institutions, the Commission took the position that it was in the overall interest of the state to encourage attendance there.

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