Missouri has a century-long tradition of providing postsecondary education through two-year institutions. The Kansas City Polytechnic Institute, which has since evolved into Metropolitan Community College, began offering postsecondary classes in 1915, followed by Flat River Junior College (now Mineral Area College) in 1922, Trenton Junior College (now North Central Missouri College) in 1925, and Moberly Junior College (now Moberly Area Community College) in 1927. Another group of colleges was formed in the 1960s: St. Louis Community College in 1962, Crowder College, and Jefferson College in 1963, Three Rivers College in 1966, and East Central College and State Fair Community College in 1968. Finally, St. Charles Community College was established in 1987 and Ozarks Technical Community College in 1990.
In 1972, the Missouri Commission on Higher Education recommended in its state higher education master plan that oversight of junior colleges be transferred from the State Board of Education to the Commission. The legislature passed a law reflecting that recommendation in 1973 and the change became effective in 1974. The successor of the Commission on Higher Education, the Coordinating Board for Higher Education, remains the agency that provides administrative oversight for the state’s community colleges (Missouri Revised Statutes, §173.005).
Increasing recognition of the fact that the baby boom would eventually result in increased demand for postsecondary education services prompted several state conferences on higher education and ultimately led Governor James Blair to establish a Committee on Education Beyond High School in 1960. The committee recommended creating a state system of junior college districts, which would be funded by voter-approved local property taxes, state appropriations, and tuition. The following year, the legislature passed a bill sponsored by Hillsboro Senator Earl Blackwell based largely on the committee’s recommendations. Governor John Dalton signed the bill into law.
The 1961 act allowed junior college districts to be formed from more than one school district, gave the colleges the ability to levy local taxes and to receive state appropriations, and maintained the relationship between the junior colleges and the State Board of Education that had been established by the 1927 act. It also allowed colleges to expand their course offerings beyond transfer programs, thereby enabling them to become comprehensive community colleges.This history reflects the state’s changing relationship with public two-year postsecondary institutions. The early colleges operated without oversight at the state level. The state’s first foray into formal oversight of two-year postsecondary institutions came in 1927, when the legislature passed a state law that authorized existing school districts to add courses for grades 13 and 14 upon petition of local citizens and acceptance of the petition by the Missouri State Board of Education. The law allowed school districts to charge tuition for post-secondary classes but prohibited them from receiving state funds or collecting local taxes to support those activities. By 1949, eight school districts provided postsecondary education, but due largely to lack of state and local funding, many of efforts had been abandoned.
Several new laws passed in the late twentieth century reflect growing recognition of the importance of community colleges in providing a skilled workforce. In 1986, the legislature passed a law creating the Customized Training Program, under which community colleges and other entities provide training for businesses that create net new jobs in the state or retaining existing jobs in Missouri as a result of a substantial capital investment (Senate Bill 628, 1986). A 1988 law created the Community College New Jobs Training Program, which lowers the cost of locating a new facility or expanding a workforce in the state by assisting with funding for training services such as specialized training designed specifically for industry needs, adult basic education, on-the-job training, and occupational skill training (House Bill 1034, 1988). Subsequently, the legislature’s interest in retaining existing jobs in addition to creating new jobs led to the creation of the Community College Retained Jobs Training Program (Senate Bill 1155, 2004). That program targets Missouri companies that have been deemed to be at risk for relocating or that have made substantial investments in technology.
Later laws reflect legislators’ interest in ensuring that students have access to low-cost postsecondary education and growing respect for community colleges. In 1993, a new scholarship program designed to pay for the cost of tuition, fees, and books at a community college or vocational-technical school was established (Senate Bill 380, 1993). Finally, in 2008, the legislature passed a bill sponsored by Representative Kevin Wilson that required the Revisor of Statutes to change all references to the term “junior college” in state law to “community college” (House Bill 1869, 2008).