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Happy 60th, HCC!

September 15, 2006

The late Harry S Truman gets credit for a great many things that happened during his time in the White House - including bringing World War II to an end and overseeing the rebuilding of Europe through the Marshall Plan.

But not so well known is Truman's involvement in the promotion of community colleges.

In 1947, the President's Commission on Higher Education suggested that the U.S. should have a network of community colleges and "that their activities be multiplied."

According to a history done by the Nebraska Community College Association, the report was not only an endorsement of the community college concept, but also made it clear that these institutions were part of the nation's "higher education" system.

That meant community colleges were eligible for federal funding and by 1998 there were more than 1,000 of them in the U.S.

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One of the first was Hagerstown Junior College, now Hagerstown Community College.

Its first classes were held in 1946, in the basement of Hagerstown High School. The 92-member student body was made up mostly for World War II veterans.

Atlee Kepler, the first of HCC's academic leaders to have the title of president, worked behind the scenes to get the college its own campus. Kepler also improved the school's academics and pushed for career and technical education, as well as for an emphasis on the idea of lifelong learning.

Kepler, who stepped down in 1986, has much to be proud of, but the story of HCC is about more than one person.

There are the alumni, many of whom have raised money for scholarships and facilities such as an amphitheater.

There are the trustees, who oversaw the growth in enrollment and responded by getting HCC the resources it needed to expand its physical plant.

But the heart of any college is its faculty. The alumni who have spoken to The Herald-Mail's reporters about their time there say that it was dedicated educators who made it possible for them to grow, not only academically, but in maturity as well.

Community colleges provide a way for students who aren't sure what they want to do sample a variety of courses, at a cost far below what four-year colleges charge.

Nor will they get lost in the crowd, as first-year students often do at four-year schools.

More often, HCC is where students find themselves and a purpose for their lives.

That's something made possible because, from 1946 to 2006, caring people have worked to help residents of this region make their dreams of a better life come true.

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