Poet and Nobel Prize winner T.S. Eliot once said, “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” This is certainly true for higher education opportunities that may have not been available to many students based on the space in which they find themselves in life. However, community colleges around the country have given a new hope to these students, providing them with an opportunity to “Stay Close, Go Far.” In fact, this is the slogan of Jackson State Community College. With the start of the fall 2017 semester, Jackson State Community College will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary of continually offering accredited programs of study to all students interested in receiving a higher education and career training.
While it is difficult to pinpoint a date in time when Jackson State was founded, June 22, 1965, marks the date when the Tennessee State Board of Education selected Jackson to be the home of the first community college located in West Tennessee. Several cities in West Tennessee lobbied for the college, but Jackson ultimately had the population to support a community college endeavor. Supported by George Smith, the mayor of Jackson at the time, and Baxter Smith, the president of the Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce, both saw the economic need to bring affordable two-year associate degree programs to the Jackson area. 103.5 acres of land were purchased on Highway 70 East to build the original campus, whose buildings were built at a cost of slightly over two million dollars.
Since the beginning of the college, leadership has been a core belief of Jackson State. The college’s first president was Dr. F.E. Wright. Previously the president at Union University, Wright assumed control of the planning and implementation of the college on March 15, 1967. He assembled the first administration, faculty, and staff to serve at Jackson State. While he anticipated an original enrollment of only 400 students for the first class of Jackson State, an additional 240 students enrolled in September of 1967, proving the educational opportunity to be a popular option among West Tennessee residents from the very beginning.
While much has changed over its fifty years of operation, some tenets have remained the same from the start. One is to offer an academic program that will prepare students to transfer their educational credits and experience to a four-year institution. Many of Jackson State’s students earn an associate’s degree and then later go on to transfer their knowledge to a four-year college or university. Jackson State serves as an educational starting point for countless students. With the recent addition of the Tennessee Promise program, numerous students are taking advantage of the opportunity to have their first two years of college paid for by the government program.
For the inaugural academic year in 1967 to 1968, two degree programs were offered: the associate of science general and the associate of arts general. Areas of academic concentration included: pre-business, pre-engineering, pre-medical technician, pre-teaching, pre-law, pre-medicine, pre-dentistry, and pre-pharmacy. Today, Jackson State offers more than forty different academic pathways leading to a variety of associate’s degrees and certificates.
One of the highlights that makes Jackson State so distinct is that it maintains an open-door policy, accepting all qualified students who wish to receive a quality education. There is truly no “typical” Jackson State student. The institution is a popular option for many adult students, including student veterans, due to the support services that it offers. Located on campus, there is a student veterans center, academic assistance center that provides free tutoring, and a writing center that affords students the opportunities of assistance and support throughout their entire academic career at the institution.
Jackson State has also branched out to include other locations and modalities to better serve the fourteen counties in West Tennessee that is services. Dual enrollment courses are now offered by qualified instructors to area high school students so they may earn college credit while still finishing high school. In 1998, Jackson State opened a center in Savannah and in 1999 followed suit by opening a center in Lexington. In addition to other centers, Jackson State’s core belief in innovation has allowed it to offer a bevy of online courses and courses through Blue Jeans, an online video conferencing service. By innovating, the college is better meeting the needs of its busy students in a vastly digital world.
Other programs that Jackson State has utilized to meet the needs of its often not-so-traditional students are programs and partnerships aligned with the state of Tennessee. In addition to the Tennessee Promise scholarship that many senior high school students look forward to taking advantage of in the fall, there is also the Tennessee Reconnect program for older students looking to go back to the school to either start or finish a degree.
In addition to new partnerships with the state, Jackson State continues to build and grow its beautiful campus. Recently, both the nursing building and health sciences building were added to campus to house the groundbreaking programs that each contributes to the healthcare landscape in West Tennessee. Each building is equipped with laboratory and simulation equipment, providing students with the most up-to-date training available on the market.
Jackson State Community College continues to break down educational barriers many students face today. Since its inception in 1967, the college has provided the excellence that it strives for in its core beliefs. As such, it is the hidden jewel in the crown to Jackson’s educational institutions, providing affordability and opportunity to its students for fifty years.
Special thanks to former Jackson State President Walter L. Nelms for the factual information provided in his essay on Jackson State entitled "Jackson State Community College" in the compilation "Community Colleges of Tennessee: The Early Years, Volume 2," edited by Roy S. Nicks.
To learn more about Jackson State Community College, visit their website.
Megan Shulman is the Catalog and Reference Librarian at Jackson State Community College. A native New Yorker, she now proudly calls West Tennessee her home. She is an avid reader, writer, and painter.