Union County College has a remarkable history as New Jersey’s first community college. The College has lived three separate lives since its birth in 1933, as a one-room night school in a Union County high school. Over the past eight decades, the College that was known as Union County Junior College, Union Junior College, and Union College is now Union County College, a comprehensive community college serving more than 20,000 credit and non-credit students at three campuses in Union County, New Jersey.
U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt founded Union County Junior College as an “emergency junior college” through the federal Works Project Administration. The College’s original mission was to provide jobs for unemployed teachers and professors.
By 1936, the College became Union Junior College as an independent, non-profit, degree-offering institution governed by a Board of Trustees. The College’s mission was to prepare students for transfer to earn bachelor’s degrees.
In 1982, the County-funded Union County Technical Institute merged with the 50-year-old junior college (named Union College) to form Union County College. The merger included the establishment of a Board of Trustees to oversee College operations, and a separate Board of Governors to act in an advisory capacity and to elect four of its members to serve on the Board of Trustees.
With the merger of the Technical Institute and the existing junior college, Union County College adopted the multi-tiered mission of an open-access, comprehensive community college. As such, the College has over 60 associate degree and certificate programs, as well as noncredit opportunities for continuing education and workforce development. The College is committed to its “open door” mission as evidenced by its providing developmental education for academically underprepared students. Since fall 2014, the College has attracted the County’s brightest students to participate in its American Honors Program, a cohort-based degree program that provides honors students with seamless transfer to the nation’s top universities.
Union County College has campuses in Cranford, Elizabeth, Plainfield, and an academic presence in Scotch Plains and Rahway. An increasing number of students are also taking classes online, as the College offers more than 150 classes through its distance-education program.
More than half of the College’s students are enrolled on the Cranford Campus’ 47-acre suburban setting. The Elizabeth Campus is located in the heart of New Jersey’s fourth largest city, and more than 40 percent of the College’s students take at least one class in either the Lessner or Kellogg buildings in Elizabeth.
The Plainfield Campus doubled its footprint in 2013 with the purchase of property that was once an automotive parts facility. In fall 2015, the Health Sciences building opened with state-of-the-art labs for the Practical Nursing, Emergency Health Science, and Paramedic Programs.
The Cranford campus also recently expanded, thanks to the Union County Improvement Authority. A new two-story, 40,000 square-foot facility, an extension of the renovated historic Nomahegan building, is now the hub of the campus. The Student Development Building houses a wide range of student services on the first floor of the Helen E. Chaney Student Services Center, named for generous donor and alumna Helen Chaney, ’48. The second floor houses classrooms as well as faculty and departmental offices.
In August 2016, the Annex at the Plainfield campus finally re-opened after being shuttered for four years by a fire. The renovated building contains an Information Commons, bookstore, cafeteria, and faculty offices on the second floor.
In June 2017, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education reaffirmed Union’s accreditation after more than three years of hard work by the College’s faculty, staff, and administration.
The most recent renovations were completed during the summer of 2018 to the first floor and lower level of the Lessner Building at the Elizabeth campus. The first floor houses a new Student Services Center and the lower level has offices and training classrooms for the College’s Center for Economic and Workforce Development.