History of Orange County

A century of colleges in OC

Fullerton Junior College, probably in the 1950s.

Fullerton Junior College, probably in the 1950s.

By Jim Tortolano

These days, the minimum entrance requirement into the middle class life is believed to be a college degree. Yet in Orange County, for more than half of its history, there were no four-year institutions of higher education, and going away to college literally meant that.

There were a handful of short-lived colleges in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but the first post-secondary institution was established in 1913 as what is today called Fullerton College. It was originally an outgrowth of Fullerton Union High School, with the “campus” of Fullerton Junior College on the high school grounds for about 20 years.

What would become the oldest continuing operating two-year college (and Orange County’s longest-living college of any kind) began with 26 students, with his first graduating class emerging in 1915.

It was in that year, that O.C. got its second college, this time in the county seat. A two-year extension program at Santa Ana Polytechnic High School was created which became Santa Ana College. Again, as with the Fullerton school, it started on the high school campus and moved to bigger quarters as enrollment grew.

The post-World War II boom also included a boom in higher education as the G.I. Bill sent millions of veterans onto college campuses. Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa opened in 1948, using some of the buildings from the recently-closed Santa Ana Army Air Force base (see related article).

O.C.’s first four-year college opened in Costa Mesa in 1950, as Southern California Bible College moved from Pasadena. The school later changed its name to Southern California College and today is known as Vanguard University.

That journey to the sunnier shores of the county was repeated by Chapman College, which in 1954 moved from Los Angeles to Orange. The college took over the campus of the original Orange High School, which was rebuilt in a more-modern facility a short distance away.

Chapman College became Chapman University in 1991, and under the leadership of Dr. James Doti, expanded rapidly and added greatly to its enrollment, campus and reputation.

Orange County’s first public four-year college opened in Fullerton as Orange County State College in 1959. The name was changed to Orange State College in 1962 and then again to California State College, Fullerton in 1964. The present name of California State University, Fullerton, was adopted in 1972.

CSUF has grown dramatically, especially in the 21st century. With over 38,000 students, it is now the largest in the CSU system and second only in enrollment in California to UCLA.

The renowned University of California system came to Orange County in 1965. The campus, now the fifth-largest in the UC system, served as a major catalyst for the creation and growth of the City of Irvine, now the third-largest city in the county.

UCI Anteater logo

UCI Anteater logo

The baby boomers started to come of college age in the mid-Sixties, which led to a boom in two-year schools. They were shedding the “junior” name and rebranding themselves as community colleges. One-campus districts added more schools and eventually all of Orange County was part of a community college district.

The former Orange Coast Junior College District became the Coast Community College District, which opened Golden West College in Huntington Beach in 1966, and Coastline Community College (the “college without walls”) in 1976. Although headquartered in Fountain Valley, Coastline has centers in Garden Grove, Newport Beach and Westminster.

The Fullerton Junior College District became the North Orange County Community College District and debuted Cypress College in 1966. In the rapidly-expanding south county, the South Orange County Community College District was formed in 1967 and Saddleback College opened in Mission Viejo in 1968.

Irvine Valley College opened in 1979 as the Saddleback North campus and got its independent status in 1985 within the SOCCD. Santiago Canyon College opened in 1985 as the Orange Branch of Santa Ana College, then became the separate SCC in 1987.

There are also several private four-year universities and colleges in Orange County, including Concordia University (Irvine), Hope International University (Fullerton) and Soka University of America (Aliso Viejo).

Branches of other universities are also located in Orange County. USC, for instance, has a branch in Irvine, and the University of Redlands in Santa Ana.

A hundred years ago, “I’m going to college in Orange County” meant just one school. Now it’s a huge array of choices as diverse as the county itself.

1 reply »

  1. In recent years people kept mentioning Vanguard College to me, but I had never heard of it. Then I discovered it was originally Southern California College which I knew well because my sister graduated from there in the early 1970s.

    But speaking of Community Colleges, I recall that when I graduated from High School in 71 Community College bound students had to go to the college in there “College District” based on where they lived, but living in Garden Grove, a unaligned area, allowed me to go to any of the Community Colleges. However, I may be wrong about the resident restrictions.

    One more thing, with the advent on Online classes and colleges, a college education is now available to every Orange County resident from their own home, with basically the only restriction being economic.

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