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NJC: Back to the Future PDF Print E-mail
Written by Cindy Johnson, Executive Director, NJC Foundation   

It was Saturday, March 22, 1941. Area educators and residents met in a public forum to discuss the feasibility of opening a local junior college. Less than six months later, on Sept. 8, 1941, 55 students enrolled in classes at the newly-established Junior College of Northeast Colorado.

Students came from 17 northeastern Colorado communities, Denver, Kansas and South Dakota for classes held at Sterling High School.

Some looked forward to two-year vocational programs in drafting, wood turning, carpentry, radio science and photography. Others planned to complete two years of basic college coursework prior to transferring to four-year institutions. None could have predicted the life-altering event that was about to occur.

On Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, an extra edition of the Sterling Advocate hit the newsstands bearing the headline Japanese Bomb Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Killing Hundreds, Declare War on U.S. World War II had begun.

Monday morning, recruiting offices across northeast Colorado were overflowing with young men and women volunteering for service. For the next three and a half years, life in northeast Colorado revolved around the war­—gasoline rationing, scrap metal collection, used-clothing/canned-goods drives and victory gardens.

As hundreds of young men left to join the armed forces, women went to work in our fields, businesses and factories. A prisoner of war camp was established at the Logan County Fairgrounds. Life was forever changed.

The Junior College of Northeast Colorado did its part for the war effort by offering a flight training program for Naval Aviation Cadets. Hard hit by the exodus of young people, enrollment plummeted to 20 students by 1943.

Ensuing years produced a whirlwind of change and advancement. Local residents voted to form a junior college district in 1944 and renamed the college Sterling Junior College. In 1945, the Logan County Poor Farm was purchased to become Smith Hall, a multi-purpose facility which housed classrooms, offices, a bookstore, library and cafeteria.

In 1950, the college was christened Northeastern Junior College to reflect its expanded service area.

Such was the story of the first years of NJC—a story of challenge, strength and resolve. Given the sweeping impact of World War II on life in northeast Colorado, it would have been easy to simply close the doors of this new college had northeast Coloradoans not been of such hearty stock.

As we contemplate the next chapter in the story of NJC, it is incumbent upon us to take a look back at our history, as well as forward to our future. Our predecessors understood the significance of locally-available higher education to economic development and quality of life in our region—and they were committed to its support. We are inspired by their vision.

In 1941, the average annual cost for attending junior college was $112. Today, a year of full-time study and stay at NJC costs nearly $11,000—an overwhelming amount of money for many young people in northeast Colorado.

In light of this reality, the NJC Foundation has established the Hope Scholarship Program. The Hope pays up to half the tuition for two years of college for any high school student with a 2.5 GPA from Logan, Phillips, Sedgwick, Washington or Yuma counties.

Upon entering NJC, recipients must maintain a 3.0 GPA or spend time in our free tutoring center. Students receiving the Hope tend to be those from middle-income families who struggle to pay for college. They are also some of our best students.

Hope recipients have significantly higher graduation rates and GPAs than the NJC student body as a whole. These are students who seize the opportunity and run with it!

On Saturday, May 21, the NJC Foundation will hold its fifth annual Hope Gala at the Bank of Colorado Event Center to benefit the Hope Scholarship. This year’s theme is a 70th Anniversary Soirée—an elegant “evening party” to celebrate the vital role NJC has played in the history of this region.

The public is invited to purchase tickets for this event individually or as a table for 10. If you would like to join us for an extraordinary evening—or if you wish to make a contribution to the Hope Scholarship Endowment—please contact me, Cindy Johnson, at 521-6603.