A legacy of access: Celebrating 50 years of the 1967 Community College Act

Community College Act signing ceremony

Fifty years ago this April, Gov. Dan Evans, ’48, ’49, signed the Community College Act of 1967, opening the doors to affordable higher education for millions of Washington residents.

At the time, the nation was wrestling with how to provide college and university access for the baby boomers, who were overcrowding the four-year schools. Washington only had a few junior colleges, and they were attached to and run by the public school districts.

In a speech to the Washington Congress of Parents and Teachers in Yakima the year prior, Evans championed an idea that seemed radical for the time. “Community colleges should be a part of the higher education system,” he told the crowd. “I know that a furor will be raised when I make this suggestion.”

Not only were school districts loath to surrender the control and income brought in by their junior colleges, but there was also general concern over where the new colleges would be located and who would run them. Ultimately, Evans pulled together a coalition of business and education leaders from across the state, including UW President Charles Odegaard, to draft a bill “… to offer a post-high school education to every citizen, regardless of background or experience, at a cost within his means.”

It would become a way for more Washingtonians to obtain the skills and opportunities to find better jobs, further their educations and improve their circumstances. At the first meeting of the trustees of the new community college system, Evans predicted a great demand: “I am convinced that you are just beginning to see the pressures that will grow over the next few years for adult education and re-education, the training and retraining of people to meet the demands of an increasingly complex technology.”

In 1991, Washington’s five vocational technical institutes merged with the community colleges. Today, the 34-school system is overseen by the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges and serves more than 380,000 students annually. Each year, about 4,000 of them transfer to the UW’s three campuses. Many are veterans and low-income, underrepresented minority and first-generation students.

The UW continues to expand its relationship with the state’s community and technical colleges and is working to enhance the experience of its transfer students. Evans has said that presiding over the creation of the community college system is one of the things he is most proud of from his time as governor.

Image: Gov. Dan Evans, ’48, ’49, signs the Community College Act in 1967. Photo courtesy Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.