Kansas City’s first public institution of higher education, Missouri’s first community college
In the early 1900s, a trend was emerging in Kansas City: More and more families were sending their children to high school for a fifth year. Why? Most were looking for a close-to-home, affordable option for higher education. One problem with a fifth year of high school, though, was that the additional year of coursework wasn’t accepted as college credit anywhere.
By the 1913-14 school year, there were so many fifth-year high school students in Kansas City that overcrowding had become a problem. The KC school district considered segregating fifth-year students and devising a college-level curriculum for them. School officials in 1915 invited a University of Missouri representative to the Knife and Fork Club, a dinner club for civic leaders, to present this plan. But the discussion quickly evolved into starting a junior college (as community colleges were then known) instead.
Polytechnic women's basketball team, 1919
Kansas City Superintendent Ira Cammack, in a May 20 report, recommended establishing the Kansas City Polytechnic Institute, with a junior college as one of its divisions. The Polytechnic Institute was officially launched by the school board on May 29, 1915, becoming the city’s first public institution of higher education and the first junior college in Missouri.
The school district had already begun offering evening and summer vocational courses at its high school, a response to a shortage of graduates trained in areas such as business, engineering, and teaching. At the same time, the junior college movement was picking up steam nationally. The first one, Joliet Junior College, was established in Illinois in 1901; there would be 20 across the nation by 1909. Like the Kansas City model, Joliet was an extension of high school, which was often true for these new junior colleges in larger cities.
Kansas City Polytechnic Institute began on Sept. 7, 1915, with 566 students enrolled in post-secondary classes by the end of that week. Enrollment far exceeded expectations, and the school district had to find teachers for 15 additional classes. The Institute was housed in the former Central High School building at 11th and Locust streets downtown.
The president of the University of Missouri and the chancellor of the University of Kansas were both on hand for the Polytechnic’s formal opening on Sept. 11, 1915.
The Polytechnic Institute didn’t charge tuition for students who lived within the school district’s boundaries. Students who lived outside the district paid $60 per year in 1915-16 and $45 per semester for at least the next two school years. Tuition for out-of-district students would continue to increase over the years while remaining free for district residents.
The Polytechnic Institute offered not only classes that prepared students for additional college work, but also courses that could lead to profitable employment. In the beginning, the Institute included the junior college, a teacher training school, a high school, a mechanic arts school, a trade school, and a business training school. Nursing courses were added in 1920-21.
The junior college division quickly became the most popular; its curriculum mirrored the course offerings at colleges of arts and sciences. Due to the junior college’s demands for space in the aging building, the other divisions were spun off or discontinued in 1916-17. The trade school division, for instance, was transferred to the Lathrop School of Mechanical Trades.
Because the junior college’s student body included some who had attended out-of-town colleges the year before, the two-year Polytechnic junior college program held a graduation ceremony at the end of its first academic year, in the spring of 1916.
A new name, a national model
Junior College cheerleaders, 1922
The Polytechnic Institute got a new name on Sept. 4, 1919, becoming known as the Junior College of Kansas City (but often referred to as “Kansas City Junior College” or just “Junior College”). It was one of the first two-year colleges in the United States to award the associate degree and became a national model for two-year post-secondary education.
Even before the name change, the institution gained accreditation from the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools in 1918, its third year of operation.
The 3845 McGee St. location, 1960s
The community was excited: Parents viewed the Junior College as an answer to the call for more post-high school options, and the Kansas City school board saw it as a way to put well-trained people into the local workforce.
In 1942, the same year the college moved to the former Westport Junior High School building at 3845 McGee St., it got a longer name — but just briefly. The Kansas City School District merged the Junior College and its Teachers College, renaming the institution the Junior and Teachers College of Kansas City. It would revert to its former name in 1944.
From 1915 to 1964, the KC school board operated the College. In May 1964, voters in the Kansas City district and seven suburban school districts — Belton, Center, Grandview, Hickman Mills, Lee’s Summit, North Kansas City and Raytown — approved the creation of the Junior College District of Metropolitan Kansas City. That same year, the public elected a Board of Trustees, which began governing the college now known as Metropolitan Junior College-Kansas City.
MCC-Penn Valley Campus, early to mid-1970s
As Kansas City expanded into the suburbs during the 1960s, so did Metropolitan Junior College, which opened the Longview, Maple Woods and Penn Valley campuses starting in 1969. The institution would become the “Metropolitan Community Colleges,” reflecting the three campuses scattered around town, in 1975.
In the 1980s and ’90s, the Blue Springs, Park Hill, Independence and Fort Osage districts joined the community college district. Blue River Community College was named the fourth MCC campus in 1997, and the Business & Technology campus in 2002.
In December 2005 the five campuses became known as a singular unit: Metropolitan Community College. The goal of “One MCC” — one college with five campuses — was to create a more unified college district to serve the needs of students all over the Greater Kansas City region.
Today, MCC is one of the largest public education providers in the area. With five campuses on the Missouri side of Greater Kansas City and a robust online program, MCC serves about 30,000 students annually through credit and noncredit courses and business services. From the beginning, MCC has been a vibrant and ever-changing system that works to create a better community through education.