On September 12, 1910, Fresno City College opened its doors as Fresno Junior College. Fresno City College is California’s first community college and the second oldest in the nation.
Fresno City College was established by Charles L. McLane, then-superintendent of Fresno Schools. It was McLane’s vision to bring higher education to the Central Valley. After a failed attempt to start a normal
school, he turned his attention to establishing the state’s first junior college. McLane utilized the 1907 Upward Extension Law that gave local high schools permission to provide the first two years of university instruction. The new junior college became an extension of Fresno High School, which at the time was located at Stanislaus and O streets in downtown Fresno.
In the spring of 1910, McLane sent a circular to the community to find out what kind of interest existed in establishing a junior college. He surveyed patrons of Fresno High School and local principals. He received over 200 responses which were all favorable. He didn’t receive even one objection. With these results in hand, he then reported to the Board of Education the need to have a junior college in Fresno to serve the Central Valley.
McLane explained that the nearest universities, the University of California and Stanford University, were 200 miles away and it was too much of a hardship for those who couldn’t afford to attend a college that far away from home. He wanted to ensure that Fresno students had access to a college education close to home. He pointed out that these students were only seventeen or eighteen years of age and their parents were hesitant to send them so far away from their families. Having the junior college in Fresno would allow these students to take classes through the first two years of college while still being able to live at home.
McLane received welcomed endorsements from the authorities at the University of California and Stanford University. In fact, Stanford president, David S. Jordan, is credited with originating the term “junior college.” Both universities were consulted and both offered assistance in helping plan classes and hiring instructors. McLane received commitments from the universities that any work done by the students in Fresno would be accepted and recognized by the universities. In Fresno, students studied mathematics, English, Latin, modern languages, history, economics and technical work. After completing their freshman and sophomore years, students could earn a “junior certificate” and transfer to the University of California or Stanford.
The new junior college would also provide vocational training in areas such as agriculture, the industries, commerce, applied civics and domestic science that the neither the high school nor the four-year universities could adequately offer.
On May 8, 1910, the Board of Education adopted the report and authorized the opening of Fresno Junior College in September of that year. McLane made sure the new junior college had its own faculty and its own student body separate from the high school “to impress upon students and the public at large the fact that serious work of distinctive college standards is being undertaken,” he noted.
The college opened with 20 students and three new faculty members. Five other faculty members from the high school brought the total number of instructors to eight. One of the newly hired was Fresno High School principal Frederick Liddeke, who also was put in charge of the new junior college. Liddeke was hired to replace A. C. Olney who had left to become principal of Santa Barbara High School where he opened the state’s second community college in 1911. Another new hire, George W. Huntting, who taught English and Latin, was named Dean of the Junior College. By the end of the third year, the enrollment at Fresno Junior College had doubled.
For those who graduated from Fresno High School, there was no charge to attend. All others were charged a tuition of $4 a month to cover expenses. The cost of running the junior college was the sole responsibility of the high school. The Upward Extension Law only permitted the establishment of the junior college but provided no funding. It wasn’t until 1917 that a new law provided funding for junior college courses.
In 1911, McLane founded the Fresno Normal School, the forerunner to California State University, Fresno. McLane oversaw both the Fresno Normal School and Fresno Junior College which were both housed at Fresno High School. Within a couple of years, the Fresno Normal School moved to its own campus on University Avenue. From 1921 to 1948, Fresno Junior College was also located at the University Avenue location where the two schools shared staff and facilities.
In 1948, Fresno Junior College returned to its original site at Stanislaus and O Street, which was now Fresno Technical High School. Fresno Technical High School closed in 1950 and Fresno Junior College remained at that location until earthquake damage forced the junior college to find a new home in the late fifties. The Normal School, which was now called Fresno State College, was being relocated to a new campus in northeast Fresno. By 1959 Fresno Junior College completed its move to 1101 E. University Avenue, where it is located today.
In 1958, the Board of Education approved a name change for the college. Its new name? Fresno City College.
Today, Fresno City College, now part of the State Center Community College District, is a bustling and vibrant community college serving over 25,000 students each semester. With eight academic divisions and two student service divisions, it boasts award-winning programs in areas such as nursing, fine arts, athletics, science, vocational training and more. In addition to the main campus, the college includes the Career & Technology Center in southwest Fresno, the Manchester Educational Resource Center and the Training Institute, a contract education program providing customized training. Fresno City College prepares students for the workforce or transfer to four year universities including the University of California, California State University, and even Stanford.
A hundred years ago, Charles L. McLane was a visionary pioneer in education in Fresno. Today, Fresno City College continues his legacy by being a leader in education throughout the state and the central valley. We hope you will join us in celebrating our Centennial as we begin the next 100 years.