The term “junior college” is largely a thing of the past, yet three two-year higher education institutions in Colorado still hold that designation.
Those colleges want to change that. Joe Garcia, chancellor of Colorado Community College System, wants to remove the word “junior” from three rural system colleges — Trinidad State Junior College, Otero Junior College and Northeastern Junior College.
“They came at a time when that was a common term, just as within the state, we used to have three ‘normal colleges,’" Garcia said. "Now, ‘normal colleges’ vanished from the scene nationally, you know, decades ago, but they were once common. So this is a similar move.”
Several colleges in Colorado, such as Colorado Mesa University and Fort Lewis College, once had “junior” in their name, but have since changed to their modern designation while offering four-year bachelor's degrees.
Now, only 15 two-year institutions in the United States still have “junior” in their title.
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Leaders of the junior colleges say the title is a detriment to their recruitment efforts. Trinidad State President Rhonda Epper said the low number of junior colleges in the nation causes unnecessary confusion for prospective students.
“Some of our recruiters report that when they're at recruiting events, students will walk up to the table and ask whether we're a real college,” Epper said. “So we know that the name junior has a lesser-than connotation and that's tough to overcome in today's competitive environment for community colleges.”
The changes Epper, Garcia, and the two other junior college presidents are looking for are now working their way through the State Legislature. Republican state Sen. Cleave Simpson of the San Luis Valley introduced a bill that would do exactly that — remove “junior” from those three colleges. If passed, it would result in a solely superficial change.
“The name change has nothing to do with scope or mission of any of the institutions. They continue to offer the same programs, the same concurrent enrollment, same outcomes as they historically have. It's an effort to make them more sustainable, more attractive,” Simpson said.
During the bill’s second reading on the Senate floor Tuesday, Republican state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling introduced an amendment that would have excluded Northeastern Junior College from the change. He said there wasn’t enough community engagement to justify its inclusion. That amendment, which was not requested by the college, failed.
The bill passed its second reading on the Senate floor Tuesday with a comfortable margin. It will go through one last vote in the Senate before moving to the House.