The driving force for community colleges has remained strong since their inception in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Joliet Junior College, established in 1901, is the first community college and its main purpose was very similar to the central goal of many community colleges today. These institutions, once known as junior colleges, had to be a physically and an economically accessible higher learning institution for their communities. Since 1901, a wave of community colleges began sprouting up around the nation to support people who wanted an accessible education. It became the “people’s college.”
This idea became especially prominent during the Great Depression, when the unemployment rate in the nation was at an abysmal high. Instructors of community colleges not only focused on teaching transferrable course, but they also stepped into the role of vocational trainers. In the 1930s, community colleges were packed with unemployed students looking to escape the toils of the Great Depression. These vocational programs aimed to offer white-collar training in business, accounting, nursing and engineering. Even after the Great Depression, the community college still continued to grow. The most important change, however, occurred in the 1960s when community colleges became open admissions for anyone who wanted an education.
Over a century old, the community college has remained the people’s college. Founded in January 1966, Bellevue College, once a community college, has also stayed true to that purpose. Being the third largest higher education institution in Washington State, Bellevue College has transformed in order to cater to their growing community. Admitting students from across their district and even the state, Bellevue College shed the “community” from their name on April 13, 2009, which was a defining moment. Although a simple edit in the name might not have changed the college externally, it sparked discussions about how else the college can serve their widespread community.
One way that the college hopes will better serve their students is to become a state college. Early last year, Bellevue College and Washington State University have initiated conversations about merging into a new institution. This potential partnership has been followed by news organizations such as the Bellevue Reporter and the communities of both Bellevue College and WSU. This merger would allow BC to offer more four-year degrees, while providing WSU a prime, accessible location for students in Puget Sound.
“It seems pretty clear to me that our community has a very high expectation and demand that we are going to grow into this new institution while at the same time keeping true to our open admission and social justice,” said President Dave Rule of BC.
Regardless of how possible this plan may be, both institutions have been dedicated to exploring the positive and negative effect a partnership of this scale can have on both of the communities that they serve. Recently, BC and WSU participated in a two-day retreat, which allowed administration and instructors from both institutions to strongly discuss every detail of this merger. Although their discussions are tentative and the feasibility of the partnership looms over both institutions, Bellevue College, according to Rule, is hoping to move towards becoming Bellevue State College.
“I see Bellevue College in some form being Bellevue State College,” explained Rule of his vision for the school. “We could be Bellevue State College as part of Washington State, or Bellevue State College on our own or Bellevue State College as something new within the Community and Technical College system.”
Currently, the main obstacle in this plan, according to Rule, is getting legislative approval. “We’re not allowed to be Bellevue State. We can’t just join WSU. The State Board of Community and Technical Colleges can’t just declare us as Bellevue State either,” explained Rule, “In both short and long term challenges, the biggest hurdle revolves around legislative issues.”
Aside from the partnership, another plan that BC has underway is student housing. The main purpose for this housing is to attract more international students. In addition, having students on campus will change how BC can serve their students, said Rule. “Having students on campus will allow us to more seriously look at weekend degrees, alternative scheduling, and additional student programming,” discussed Rule, “That’s the other major driver for the college for the next 10 years. I can easily envision 1,000 to 2,000 students living on campus.” The first student housing is expected to be complete by Fall 2018.
The student housing and BC-WSU merger are two major developments that will change how BC serves its community. These advancements, when realized, are “going to be transformational across the board – curriculum, athletics, student programming and the way the campus is laid out,” said Rule.
In addition, BC cannot stay the same, according to Rule. “One of the major things that have changed is that industries and the type of businesses are increasingly requiring higher levels of credentials – the baccalaureate,” explained Rule, “The state of Washington has not kept up with that demand.” Rule believes that BC can be the school that bridges the baccalaureate gap. BC has already made steps towards bridging that gap. Recently, BC has been approved to offer a Bachelor’s of Science in Computer Science. By partnering with WSU and creating on-campus housing, BC can be the institution where the community can have accessible and affordable baccalaureate programs.
“We’re the community’s college. Our community has grown,” said Rule. “If we’re going to be the community’s college, Bellevue College, in my view of the world, must change and must grow into this new role.
These developments also make way for changes in student life. With Rule hopeful of an influx of international and out-of-district students, BC will thrive with individuals from different backgrounds and cultures. This diversity, according to Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Faisal Jaswal, will be instrumental to how Student Programs will change.
“The key of where Students Programs is going in the future is determined by student experience,” explained Jaswal, “I cannot give you the exact dimensions of the new frame. That frame needs to be defined by the student experience. If our students are not successful, then we are not successful.”
For Jaswal, as student population increases, space also needs to increase. Currently, BC has between 80-100 student clubs and programs and only a handful are housed in the Student Programs office in the C building. “The way students express themselves is very different from five years ago. We as a college need to recognize that,” said Jaswal. “Creating spaces where students can come together and work on a project or task is very important. We cannot limit our future students.”
The administration, faculty and staff of BC plan to continue placing students at the center of their motivations. With the opening of the new T building and plans for a new student center and student housing, it’s evident that BC will grow to better serve the needs of their students. As BC continues to develop and more buildings open, Jaswal hopes that each student can find a dedicated community that will help them. “No matter who you are or what life experiences you bring, our services are customized and tailorable to you,” said Jaswal.
Rule, Jaswal and many others in the BC community are preparing for the obstacles and successes that the future will bring. These changes may promote diversity and increase student population. BC may become Bellevue State College through WSU. The student housing may become a hub for cultural and intellectual fusion. Regardless of what that change may look like, “We’re going to develop global living learning leadership communities,” explained Jaswal.