Delaware Technical & Community College, Georgetown, DE, 1966. Delaware Public Archives
American community colleges took root in the early 20th century. The movement aimed to democratize higher education. Promoters sought to expand access to diverse family income levels by opening doors to more affordable opportunities.
William Rainey Harper, the first president of the University of Chicago, is recognized for championing the nation’s community college movement. Fittingly, nearby Joliet Junior College emerged in 1901 as the first institution to benefit from this initiative.
Various social, economic, and political factors influenced the development of US community colleges, leading to an uneven growth pattern across the country.
Corporate Ladder Opportunities in Early 20th Century Delaware
In the first half of the 20th century, for example, companies like DuPont offered Delawareans the chance to earn middle-class salaries without a degree. Individuals could start in entry-level roles, such as the mailroom, and ascend the corporate ladder through hard work and dedication.
This culture of promotion from within offered a viable pathway to upward mobility. On-the-job experience often compensated for the lack of formal education.
Delaware’s smaller population prior to the 1960s might have stalled the need for a community college system. Many residents were presumably content with the educational opportunities at four-year institutions and out-of-state colleges. Additionally, they might have considered technical apprenticeships, like those offered by Goldey Beacom School of Business in Wilmington, as satisfactory alternatives.
Teacher’s colleges, like vocational schools, were primarily concerned with preparing students for a specific career. Delaware State University, for example, had its origins as a teacher’s college.
Dean G. Bruce Dearing of the University of Delaware’s School of Arts and Sciences raised issues about the funding of junior or community colleges. He feared that these institutions, also funded by public resources, could divert tax money. In October 1961, the Dean voiced his concerns at a public affairs panel at Wilmington’s YMCA. Dearing pointed out that the University of Delaware already offered two-year associate degree programs in nine fields.
President Lyndon Johnson enacted pivotal legislation in December 1963, distributing over $1 billion in federal aid to higher education over a span of three years. Significantly, the law reserved $690 million specifically for constructing undergraduate and community college facilities. The legislation mandated each state to assign 22 percent of their funds to public community colleges and technical institutes, underscoring the value Johnson placed on these institutions.
Spurred by the promise of federal funding, the Delaware General Assembly acted at last—only 65 years after America’s very first community college had been founded. The Delaware Technical and Community College (DTCC) came into existence within three years of Johnson’s initiative. The Assembly laid the groundwork for an umbrella system consisting of four campuses.
Expanding Campuses, Expanding Opportunities
The Assembly established DTCC Georgetown in the former William C. Jason High School, a building named after the first African-American president of Delaware State College. This building housed Sussex County’s first African-American secondary school.
The new facility (today the Jack F. Owens campus) welcomed its first 367 students in September 1967. The second-year enrollment doubled at the “Southern Campus.” This expansion necessitated construction to accommodate more laboratories and classrooms.
DTCC today has three other campuses: Stanton Campus in Stanton, the Charles L. Terry Campus in Dover, and the Orlando J. George, Jr. Campus in Wilmington.
DTCC has significantly influenced Delaware’s technical and workforce training by actively broadening the higher education landscape. Such sweeping efforts have spurred the state’s economy and fostered social mobility. One fourth of Delaware’s population has taken courses at Delaware Technical and Community College during a relatively short history. No longer viewed merely as a steppingstone to four-year universities, community colleges have become destinations in their own right.