The Truman Commission & Community Colleges PDF Print E-mail
Written by Susie Dunn   

“Community colleges are one of America's great social inventions,

a gateway to the future for first time students looking for an affordable college education,

and for mid-career students looking to get ahead in the workplace.”

Sen. Barbara Mikulski  

With the arrival of the announcement of Ron Snyder’s retirement reception in early August, I stopped to think about all the history that Ron and other recently retired, long-term employees have seen and help make - with SCC in particular - and community colleges in Nebraska in general. 

Just as Ron is celebrating 40 years with SCC, the Nebraska Community College system is also celebrating its 40th anniversary. Dr. Huck will be talking about this milestone anniversary in his State of the College address at the All College Conference on August 30.

These two anniversaries piqued my curiosity. “How did the modern community college come to be?”  As with many other things, the modern community college system has its beginnings with the end of WWII.


The President’s Commission on Higher Education

President Harry Truman appointed what was officially known as The President’s Commission on Higher Education, in July 1946 as World War II was ending and the U.S. was preparing for peace-time. (The Commission came to be known as  “The Truman Commission because President Truman, the only U.S. president in the 20th century, who did not graduate from college, appointed the first official body to address federal higher education policy.)

Truman assigned the Commission the task of reexamining the role of colleges and universities in post-war America.

“[W]e should now reexamine our system of higher education in terms of its objectives, methods, and facilities; and in the light of the social role it has to play."  

The first volume of the Commission’s report, "Establishing the Goals,” issued December 11, 1947, set the pattern for the remaining five volumes of the Commission’s report and summarized the Commission's conclusions.  

As the first national dialogue on higher education, the report was considered a bold one. It identified a need for federal involvement in higher education and took a controversial stance on issues of access as well as community college recommendations.  The work of the commission also paved the way for future developments such as the Higher Education Act of 1965, federal financial aid and the current community college system.

Truman Commission Recommendations

The Commission report included ten specific recommendations

  1. Abandon the European concepts of education, and in its place, develop  a curriculum attuned to the needs of a democracy
  2. Double college attendance by 1960
  3. Integrate vocational and liberal education
  4. Extend free public education through the first 2 years of college “for all youth who can profit from such education.”  (H. Truman)
  5. Eliminate racial and religious discrimination
  6. Revise  the goals of graduate and professional school education to make them effective in training well-rounded persons as well as research specialists and technicians
  7. Expand Federal support for higher education through scholarships, fellowships, and general aid.
  8. Establish a system of community colleges
  9. Expand adult education programs
  10. Distribute federal aid to education in such a manner that the poorer States can bring their educational systems closer to the quality of the wealthier States.

Truman Commission First National Dialogue on Higher Education

The work of the Commission was both historic and unprecedented in that it focused attention on education as a means to strengthen the nation and the economy. It also drew attention to issues of access, equality democracy, quality, and relevance

The Truman Commission asked the question: “How does higher education support our nation and how should higher education receive support from the nation? The Commission also:

  1. Identified national value in developing a populous educated beyond high school as a means of preserving democracy and sustaining world peace.
  2. Identified the function of higher education and set goals for enriching the educated population of the U.S.
  3. Specifically addressed racial and religious diversity, but significantly overlooked female student participation.
  4. Offered a framework for future progress in the college access arena
  5. Identified the nation’s human capital as a national resource and supported investing in the nation’s higher educational system as a priority in support of this national resource.

While a number of the Commission’s recommendations have been achieved, others have not and fuel the discussion of current issues in American higher education.

For an overview of the Truman Report, view this Prezi created in fall, 2012, by UNL student, Sarah Weiss, The Truman Commission Report on Higher Education.

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