RCC History 

Riverside Community College District History (Exerpt)

The 85-year history of the Riverside Community College District is a microcosm of the history of the community college system in California.  Opening its classes in September 1916, it is among the earliest of the “junior” colleges started in the 20th century.  A study of the records indicates that the first junior college was established in Joliet, Illinois in 1902, the result of advocacy by such notable American educators as William Rainey Harper, President of the University of Chicago; David Starr Jordan, President of Stanford University; and Alexis F. Lange, Head of the University of California Education Department.  Harper’s efforts led to the founding of the junior college in Joliet.

As one looks at the developments in California, however, keep in mind that the enabling legislation was different from what happened in Illinois.  In short, the difference is that the Illinois model is a “downward” reach of the university, but in California it is an “upward” extension of the high school.  Only recently have various acts of the legislature addressed the impact of that circumstance.

A quick look at the first five significant pieces of legislation shows some of this development:  1907 – The Thompson Act enabled high school districts to offer “post graduate” courses that would approximate the courses offered during the first two years of university work; 1917 – The Ballard Act enabled high school districts to set up junior college programs; 1921 – The Hughes Act provided for the organization of junior college districts; 1921 – The Harris Act provided funding for junior colleges; and 1927 – The Jones Act added to existing provisions concerning the organization of junior college districts.  As one will see, in Riverside the elementary, secondary, and junior college districts were governed by the same five people serving on three more or less separate boards of education until 1963.

In 1916, Riverside was among the early areas to use the Thompson and Ballard Acts to begin a junior college. It was preceded by Fresno, 1907; Santa Barbara, 1908; Bakersfield and Fullerton, 1913; San Diego, 1914; and Citrus (Azusa); and Santa Ana, 1915.  Sacramento also opened in 1916.  Other early junior colleges were Gavilan (Gilroy), 1919; Hartnell (Salinas) and Hancock (Santa Maria), 1920; and Modesto, 1921.

One needs to recognize the foresight of school officials and citizens who began, in 1914, to move toward establishing a junior college.  In 1910, the Riverside High School was offering “post graduate” courses under the 1907 law, but annual reports do not indicate that any students were taking them.

Evidently, from late 1914 through 1915, interest in a junior college grew, and on January 10, 1916, Dr. W.W. Roblee conducted a meeting of the Polytechnic High School PTA at which speakers, among them Riverside Superintendent of Schools Arthur N. Wheelock and Principal Delbert Brunton of the Fullerton High School and Junior College, promoted the establishment of a junior college. The PTA voted unanimously to form a committee to “confer with the Board of Education concerning the possibility of establishing a junior college.”  Before the February meeting, a form letter was sent to the parents of high school students; it contained a progress report and an endorsement for starting a junior college.

In addition to the points made at the January meeting – economic and educational advantages, over-enrollment at the University of California, opportunity for smaller classes and more individualized instruction and so forth – the letter noted that parents would not be sending their children off of distant institutions.  A short quote indicates the tone of the appeal:It was urged also that many of our young people finish high school at too tender an age to be sent away from the protecting influences of the home. The question of expense, also, which at the least must amount to five or six hundred dollars a year, in many cases is almost prohibitive.

Other passages in the letter urged parents to make letter or telephone contact with the Board of Education supporting a junior college for Riverside.
The Board met on March 13, 1916, and among its other business, heard the arguments for starting a junior college.  Will C. Wood, State Commissioner of Public Education, spoke adding two novel and prophetic ideas to the concept: first, he made a “plea for democracy” by including vocational courses in the junior college curriculum and thus attracting students other than those interested in transfer to the university; and second, he talked about filling the needs of those students who could attend on a part-time basis.  Both of these ideas became fundamental aspects of the community college.

The minutes of the Board of Education meeting note simply:

The subject of opening a Junior College September 1916 was discussed at some length.  Following the discussion it was moved by Mr. W.C. Davison that a Junior College be opened in September 1916, motion was seconded by Dr. John Esgate.  The role call gave the following vote:  All voted yea.

It is very likely that community colleges founded during this period and perhaps into the 1930s share essentially the same impetus.  As one can see in the developments following World War II, major changes would take place, and those community colleges founded after the war came into existence with quite a different set of circumstances.

To organize the developments pertaining to the Riverside Community College District, we can best take a look at five periods of unequal length: 1916 to 1946 – years of steady growth under the leadership of A.G. Paul; 1946 to 1972 – growth following World War II to the separation of the college district; years of expansion, faculty-administration tensions, and student activism; 1972 to 1991 – a period of major changes and unprecedented development; and 1991 to 2001 – the most recent decade of initiatives and innovations.

One will discover in the brief overview of these five periods that the one constant of the community college movement is change.  The ability of the community college to adapt to ever-new situations is its great strength.

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Riverside City College

4800 Magnolia Avenue
Dr. Charles A. Kane Building
2nd Floor
Riverside, CA 92506

Heidi Gonsier
Executive Assistant to the President

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