Otero Junior College Faces Possible Name Change

Description: Colorado Senate Bill 008-21 would effectively remove the word - Junior - from the three names of the three junior colleges in Colorado. It goes before legislators again on April 1, 2021.


"Junior Colleges are the Blockbuster Video of Higher Education" - Northeastern Junior College President Jay Lee.

Colorado SB008-21 was introduced to the Colorado House of Representatives on March 3 this year. Senate Bill 008 would effectively remove the word "Junior" from the three Junior Colleges in Colorado. The three colleges would be integrated into the Colorado Community College System, which currently has 13 schools. It goes before state legislation again on April 1, 2021.

Northeastern Junior College President Jay Lee spoke with SECO News about the name change for the Colorado Junior Colleges. Lee has been president at NEJC in Sterling, Colorado, for just over nine years. He said he began looking at the history of junior colleges when he took his position as president because he found that junior colleges like NEJC were something of a rarity in the U.S. higher education system.

In 2012, Lee began looking at the history of junior colleges in America with interest. He talked of having to explain to several peers from outside of the area that the "junior" college was not inferior to other two-year schools; it was just the name.

According to Lee, in the early 1900's numerous junior colleges were established to give students the option to live at home during their 13th and 14th years of school. Often the junior colleges were tied to universities, which provided easy transfer for students.

According to Lee, during the Truman Era community college became the format that was encouraged and developed instead of junior colleges. Since the mid 40's - early 50's, fewer and fewer new junior colleges have been established across the country. Twenty years ago, there were only 38 of them in operation.

Lee said there are currently 15 Junior colleges in the U.S. If SB008-21 passes the three in Colorado will drop the word “junior” from their names, leaving only 12 junior colleges in the country.

Joliet Junior College in Joliet, Illinois, is the oldest junior college in America, established in 1901. New Mexico Junior College stands as the youngest junior college in America, established in 1965.

Trinidad State Junior College was the first one established in Colorado in 1925, with both Northeastern Junior College and Otero Junior College being founded 16 years later in 1941. Lee said. "At some point there will be just one left, and no one wants to be that last one."

"The enrollment decline is hurting us we have to do a better job of giving our recruiters the tools they need to do the job," Lee said. In doing so, he said, there will be a more diverse student population and better opportunities for rural colleges to attract students from the metro areas as well.

When asked about the costs associated with the name change, Lee said that all three colleges have already moved away from using the word junior. He said the signs at NEJC dropped the word junior years ago. 

Obviously, there will be expenses such as business cards, letterhead, and changing the website, which is nothing they are too worried about.

"I've had students tell me they thought (junior meant) it was less than a regular college. That's the problem we've got to overcome."

"The word is an anachronism, which is defined as a relic of the past."

If SB008-21 passes on April 1, the franchise of Colorado junior colleges will go through a name change in pursuit of rebranding to attract more diverse students from metro areas; if the bill is defeated then tradition wins and the name stays the same.

Otero Junior College Name Change Part 2 - CLICK HERE