Upper division college

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One of the first upper division colleges FAU Sign NW 20th St.jpg
One of the first upper division colleges

An upper division college is a type of educational institution that traces its roots to educational ideas put forward in the late 19th and early 20th century. They were developed primarily in the United States during the 1960s in response to the growing number of community college students seeking to continue their education. They differ from a regular college or university in that they do not provide the first two years of undergraduate instruction and require applicants to already have completed two years of study at another institution. [1]



In the late 19th and early 20th century, educational leaders such as William R. Harper and David Starr Jordan sought to separate the preparatory portion of college studies from "real" university work undertaken in the third and fourth years of study. Jordan, then president of Stanford University, proposed splitting the institution into two parts in 1907 to reach this goal, however changes the California secondary school system halted this proposal. [2] In 1914 Frank Johnson Goodnow became president of Johns Hopkins University and proposed eliminating the bachelor's degree by cutting the first two years of undergraduate work. Called the Goodnow Plan or New Plan, students would have entered Hopkins after two years of study in other universities and would have worked toward an advanced degree, bypassing the bachelor's degree.

David Starr Jordan, one of the early pioneers of upper division colleges Dsjordan.jpg
David Starr Jordan, one of the early pioneers of upper division colleges

Upper division colleges were first established as mainstream institutions in the 1950s in the United States as a means to respond to the need for educated professionals to assist in the space race. [3] While earlier efforts had been undertaken at the University of Georgia in 1858, they failed due to the onset of the Civil War. [2]

The first upper division college was the College of the Pacific in Stockton, California, which operated as an upper-division college between 1935 and 1951, before becoming the University of the Pacific in 1961. [2] This was done as part of a plan to reduce costs and increase enrollment by subletting college facilities to a high school which assumed public junior college status and funding. [2] However, disagreements between the College of the Pacific and the affiliated junior college, as well as accreditation issues resulting from the arrangement, led to the abandonment of the experiment in 1951.

The first college founded as an upper division college was University of Michigan–Flint, which was founded in 1956 as Flint College, however it converted to four year status in 1965 as a result of changes in the development of the region. [2]

Another notable early upper division college was Florida Atlantic University, which opened in 1964 and served third and fourth year undergraduate students, as well as graduate students. Later, in 1984, Florida Atlantic expanded to include first and second year undergraduates and ceased to be an upper division college. [4]

At the time they were created, upper division colleges were seen as a way to better manage community resources and provide opportunities for students. [5] It was thought that separating the upper division from the lower division of coursework would improve the relationship between undergraduate and graduate programs. [6] Additionally, some believed that by creating 2+2 programs between community colleges and upper division colleges, students could continue their education without the state needing to expand existing community colleges into full four year colleges. [7] Some commentators at the time saw the widespread development of upper division schools, in the same way community colleges had expanded in the prior decades. [8]


By the 1980s and 1990s, many states began to move away from the upper-division model. Despite concerns of crowding out of community colleges, it was felt that offering only the upper-level courses resulted in a poor public image and prevented the establishment of a full university setting. [9] Many of the students seeking to transfer from a community college desired a full college experience, including electives and extra-curricular activities. The inability to reach a large critical mass prevented the upper division colleges from competing effectively with four year colleges. [6] Some upper-division colleges such as the City University of New York's Richmond College merged with community colleges, while others such as Florida Atlantic and SUNY Institute of Technology opened their doors to freshman and sophomore undergraduates. [10] [11] As of 2009 very few upper-division colleges remain in the United States, with almost all merging with community colleges or converting to four year status.


NameStarted upper divisionEnded upper divisionResult
Athens State University 1975Current public upper division college
College of the Pacific 19351951Expanded to four years
Concordia Senior College 19571977Closed
Florida International University 19721981Expanded to four years
Garfield Senior College 19711985Merged with Lake Erie College
Governors State University 19712014GSU enrolled its first freshman class in August 2014
John F. Kennedy University 19652020Closed
Metropolitan State University 19731994Expanded to four years
Penn State Harrisburg 19662004Expanded to four years
Resurrection University 2003Current private upper division college
Richmond College 19651976Merged with community college
SUNY Institute of Technology 19662003Expanded to four years
Texas A&M International University 19691995Expanded to four years
Texas A&M University–Central Texas 2009Current public upper division college
Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi 19731994Expanded to four years
Texas A&M University–San Antonio 20092016Expanded to four years
Texas A&M University–Texarkana 19712008Expanded to four years
University of Baltimore 19752005Expanded to four years
University of Hawaii–West Oahu 19762007Expanded to four years
University of Houston–Clear Lake 19712011Ended upper-division in 2011 by statute; Admitted first freshman class in August 2014
University of Houston–Victoria 19732009Expanded to four years
University of Illinois at Springfield 19692001Expanded to four years
University of Michigan–Dearborn 19591971Expanded to four years
University of Michigan–Flint 19561965Expanded to four years
University of North Florida 19721984Expanded to four years
University of Texas at Brownsville 19731998Expanded to four years
University of Texas at Dallas 19691990Expanded to four years
University of Texas at Tyler 19711998Expanded to four years
University of Texas of the Permian Basin 19731991Expanded to four years
University of West Florida 19671983Expanded to four years
Walsh College 1968Current private NFP upper division

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