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 by such names as Union County Junior College, Union Junior College, and Union College is now Union County College, a comprehensive community college serving 12,000 credit and 10,000 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 what was now a 50-year-old junior college (going by the name of Union College) to become the Union County College we know today. The merger included the establishment of a Board of Trustees to oversee College operations as well as a separate Board of Governors to play an advisory role and to assist in the appointment of Trustees.
With the merger of the Technical Institute with the extant 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 also 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 Scotch Plains. 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’s 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, which had been confined to a single City block since opening in 1992, doubled its footprint as a result of the 2013 purchase of property that was once an automotive parts facility.
In fall 2015, the Plainfield campus opened the newly renovated building for the Health Sciences programs. Students in the Practical Nursing, Emergency Health Science, and Paramedic Programs are studying in a newly built, state-of-the-art labs.
During this time, after more than 20 years, the Cranford campus was also under expansion, thanks to the Union County Improvement Authority. A new two-story, 40,000 square-foot facility, an extensive renovation of the historic Nomahegan building, is now the hub of the College’s Cranford campus. The Student Development Building is where a wide range of student services are now housed on the first floor. Thanks to the generosity of alumnae Helen Chaney, ’48, who pledged a generous gift of $500,000 for student scholarships, the new Helen E. Chaney Student Services Center includes Admissions; Registration; Student Accounts; Financial Aid; Disability Services; Educational Opportunity Fund Services; Advising, Career and Transfer Services, and Testing. The second floor houses classrooms as well as faculty and departmental offices.
Also in August 2016, the Annex at the Plainfield campus, finally re-opened after being shuttered for years from a fire in 2012. The newly renovated Annex includes an Information Commons, bookstore, cafeteria, and new faculty offices on the second floor.