Washington's Community and Technical College Act of 1991 provides for a state system of community and technical colleges separate from both the public secondary schools and four-year institutions. The act requires that the colleges "offer an open door to every citizen, regardless of his or her academic background or experiences, at a cost normally within his or her economic means" (RCW 28B.50.020(1)).

Each college district is required to "offer thoroughly comprehensive educational, training and service programs to meet the needs of both the communities and students served by combining, with equal emphasis, high standards of excellence in academic transfer courses; realistic and practical courses in occupational education, both graded and ungraded; community services of an educational, cultural and recreational nature; and adult education" (RCW 28B.50.020(2)). College districts containing only technical colleges are exempted from the requirement to offer academic transfer courses. Each college is governed by a board of five trustees appointed to five-year terms by the governor with the consent of the Senate.

How it Began

Washington's first junior college was started in 1915 in Everett when 42 students began a one-year college program on the top floor of Everett High School. It was closed in 1923 for lack of students. Centralia College, the state's oldest existing community college, opened in 1925. It was followed by Skagit Valley College in 1926, Yakima Valley College in 1928 and Grays Harbor College in 1930. By 1941 eight junior colleges were operating in Washington, all locally administered and locally funded. Combined enrollment was approximately 1,000.

Meanwhile, in 1930 the Seattle School District opened Edison Vocational School, the first true, public vocational school in the state. The Spokane School District followed suit in 1939 with establishment of the Spokane Trade School. Both schools eventually became community colleges. The oldest existing vocational technical institute, Tacoma's Bates VTI, opened in 1940. Subsequently, VTIs opened in Clover Park, Pasco, Renton, Vancouver, Kirkland (Lake Washington), Olympia and Bellingham. The VTIs in Pasco, Spokane, Vancouver, and Olympia eventually became community colleges.

Between 1925 and 1941, there were three attempts to provide state support for junior colleges. State support was provided for the first time by the 1941 Legislature; however, that act restricted the number and location of junior colleges, prohibiting their establishment in counties having either a public or private four year institution. In 1945, junior colleges were made a part of their local school districts and supported through their funding, as was the case with vocational technical institutes until 1991.

Expansion Restrictions Removed

In 1961, the restrictions against expansion of community colleges were removed by the Legislature and junior colleges were designated as "community" colleges. This term had first appeared in a report to President Harry Truman from his Commission on Higher Education in 1947.

The financing of community colleges was separated from that of local school districts in 1963, and in 1965 the Legislature declared that it intended to establish a separate, independent community college system. Based on the recommendations of the Arthur D. Little Company, the 1967 Legislature adopted the Community College Act of 1967, which was signed on April 3 of that year.

Community and Technical College Act

The structure of the community college system remained largely intact until 1991 when, as part of the Work Force Training and Education Act, the Legislature amended the Community College Act of 1967 and redesignated it as the Community and Technical College Act of 1991.

The state's five remaining public vocational technical institutes were designated as "technical colleges," removed from the jurisdiction of their local school districts, and merged with the community college system. Each technical college was provided with its own college district and a board of trustees. Each technical college district overlaps the districts of neighboring community colleges. The State Board for Community College Education was renamed the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges by the 1991 act.

The Community and Technical College Act of 1991 also brought the Seattle Vocational Institute (SVI) into the Seattle Community College District. It had been the Washington Institute of Applied Technology since 1987 when it was established by the Legislature in a facility previously occupied by the Seattle Occupational Industrialization Center before it closed. SVI serves economically disadvantaged people in Seattle's Central district, providing job-related training for adults and contract training for local businesses.

The System Continues to Grow

In 1994, the Legislature approved the establishment of the 30th college district, Cascadia Community College. The new district began enrolling state-supported students in fall 2000.

Pierce College-Puyallup became the system's 34th college when the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges granted it college status as part of the Pierce District in June 1999.

Increasing Educational Pathways

In 2005, the Legislature gave the State Board authority to offer applied baccalaureate programs in a pilot program at selected community and technical colleges. The 2010 Legislature removed the pilot status and gave the State Board authority to approve community and technical college applied baccalaureate degree programs.

In 2009, the Legislature allowed the five technical colleges to offer transfer degrees that prepare students for professional bachelor's degrees in addition to offering technical degrees.

You can learn more about college locations, when they were established, and find links to their web sites by visiting the Washington's College System History page.

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