Fifty Years of Education and Community



By Linda P. Lerman

Norwalk, CT: Norwalk Community College, 2011

Copyright by Norwalk Community College, 2011


Linda P. Lerman

Chapter 1: Connecticut’s First Municipal Community College

Origins of the Idea of Community Colleges in Connecticut

It was only 15 miles from Bridgeport to Norwalk, but the arrival in 1953 of the new Superintendent of Public Schools of Norwalk, Dr. Harry Becker, brought new ideas and a professional vision that would change the view and future of higher education in Norwalk and eventually impact the entire State of Connecticut.   Dr. Becker’s vision to establish a community college in Norwalk didn’t materialize from a desire to merely replicate the private Junior College of Connecticut in Bridgeport where he had spent majority of his time since graduating with a doctorate in educational psychology in 1944 from Yale University.  Rather when Dr. Becker first came to Norwalk he had as one of his objectives the establishment of a public junior college.  Becker believed that “the community college, more than any other institution, is the college of all the peoples.” (Barclay p.84)


The concept of a junior college had its origins in the mid-west arising from work of the presidents of the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, and the University of Illinois.  It was in 1901 that the first public junior college was founded in Joliet, Illinois.  Until the 1930s most junior colleges were private institutions.  After the great depression when many private junior colleges closed, the expansion of junior colleges continued at a rapid pace.   By the 1950s there were 483 junior colleges in the United State.  Of these slightly more than half were public institutions with diversified programs.  (Barclay)


There are several studies that have addressed the long delay in the development of pubic community colleges in New England in general and specifically in Connecticut.  Two dissertations focus on these early years, Barry J. Cunningham’s work that explores the developmental period in Connecticut from 1945-1965, and Kenneth B. Barclay’s work on the origins of the movement from 1946-1961 with particular emphasis on the situation in Norwalk.  Both are invaluable research resources to understand the social and political climate from which Norwalk’s Community College and the Connecticut Community Colleges developed.  It is a fair assessment that the tradition of private enterprise in education that existed in Connecticut and all of New England inhibited the development of public institutions into the 1960s.


In spring 1952 Dr. Becker was awarded a sabbatical at New York University’s Higher Education Department, to study the community college movement and teach a course at NYU entitled “The Community College.”  This course coincided with the community college movement just beginning to expand in the East.   The following year as Superintendent of Public Schools in Norwalk, Connecticut, Dr. Becker was in a position to share his vision with member of the Norwalk Board of Education as well as many others in municipal government, State representatives and senators, including Senator Louis A. Lemaire from Norwalk, and many others in other organizations who took an interest. Norwalk was the seventh largest city in Connecticut in the early 1950s, but it was the largest city in the State without any public institution of higher education.  Lemaire introduced a bill in 1955 to the state legislature to permit the establishment of local community colleges.  Barclay suggests that its failure was a lack of understanding of goals and objectives of two-year community colleges and fear of tax increases in local communities.  (Barclay, p. 85) It may also have been a fear of needing to share dollars by other existing institutions of higher education that also brought pressure to bear on the legislators. Then University of Connecticut President, Albert N. Jorgenson, held the view the University of Connecticut should assume the role of educators for veterans in the state which was one of the largest segments of new students at the time. He believed that the branch campuses with the same admission requirements as the University at Storrs, would compensate for the lack of space on the main campus. There was no expectation that the masses would be permitted to participate in higher education (Barclay p. 118-23)


The Norwalk Board of Education’s reaction to the State Board decision didn’t discourage them nor did it surprise them.  In the Board’s  Minutes dated March 20, 1956, the action by the State Board of Education with reference to the Norwalk Post-Secondary Institute (which would later become known as Norwalk Community College).  The discussion in that meeting of the Board moved from the failure of Lemaire’s bill immediately into action.  “All of us have known of this but as Board members have not taken official action.  The Board has always favored a post-secondary institute, and has encouraged the Superintendent since the days he first suggested working toward getting one in Norwalk.  The Board officially had a joint meeting with the State Board of Education in Norwich, the purpose of which was to consider the plea of the Norwalk Board that there should be such an institute and that it should be built in Norwalk.  Therefore, some official point of view by the local Board would be appropriate. … The Chairman [Marvin Gruss] then declared that our own Board should go on record to commend Dr. Becker for his leadership and his participation because it was under his leadership that the Board initiated this cooperative effort with other Boards to bring about the action on the post-secondary institute.”  In further discussion about the Norwalk Post Secondary Institute, it is Madeline Bernard who raises the point that “we should urge support from local groups when the matter of the Norwalk Post Secondary Institute comes up in the Legislature.”  (Board’s  Minutes June 5, 1956)  That statement evolved into an impressive level of support by educational organizations, civil groups, legislators, businessmen, corporations, and the general public.


Acknowledging the Need for Community Colleges in Connecticut

Projections of college aged students through 1970 were at numbers that exceeded the capacity of existing public and private educational institutions.  In 1957 the Connecticut Conference on Higher Education co-sponsored by the State Department of Education and the Connecticut Council on Education, made far reaching recommendations that stated unequivocally “Additional junior colleges and community colleges are needed to serve all areas of the state.  These institutions should offer both college credit courses and other educational services.  State scholarship funds should be available for able students to continue their formal education in these colleges…  Community colleges could be more adaptable and creative in the educational services that they develop in cooperation with business and industry.”  (Report on the Tenth State Conference in Education, p. 5)  While this conference was encouraging, there was no movement to rethink the existing structure of public higher education in Connecticut.


State Senator Abner U. Sibal, the successor to State Senator Louis Lemaire, introduced legislation in March 1957 to authorize local boards of education to conduct courses on the college level for the first two years in their own towns.  All that would be required was the city or town had to approve the establishment of a community college by a referendum vote in a local election.  Although the bill required no State funding, it was tabled.


Becker took up the mantle and began in 1957 to stimulate interest through the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, which appointed a sub-committee to support a community college movement.  His principal supports among the superintendents were neighbor Gerhard Rast of Westport and William Curtis in Manchester. (Barclay p. 91)  Becker also found support in Lynn Savitsky, then President of the Central Council of PTA, and with the American Association of University Women’s president, Madeline Bernard.  The inner circle of Becker’s local supporters included Marvin I. Gruss, Charlotte Chen, Max Leposky in addition to Savitsky and Bernard. These civic leaders appreciated the importance of higher education and held a strong sense of pride in Norwalk.


By June 4, 1957 Gruss reported to the Board of Education “our community college bill is definitely lost.  The State Department of Education did not get behind this and push it.  We are partially at fault because we did not go to them and put the idea in their minds.  I hope we can arrange another meeting with them … Connecticut is known as a deficit state in post secondary colleges.  Nothing is being done about it.  We have to do something drastic.  The only approach possible is community colleges, and I hope we can keep pushing for it.”  (Board’s  Minutes June 4, 1957 p.8-9)  The Connecticut Department of Education was aware of the State’s ranking near the bottom of the country in its support of higher education according to the transcript of its Interim Committee on Education Public Hearing on Community Colleges, May 14, 1958 at the State Capitol.  The State’s support of higher education extended to the University of Connecticut, the four State Teachers’ Colleges, and one technical institute.  Outside of the State’s support were six private junior colleges in Connecticut, the Junior College of Connecticut in Bridgeport (which officially became the University of Bridgeport in 1947), the University of Hartford, Quinnipiac College of Hamden, Mitchell College of New London, New Haven College and the Hartford College for Women.


This public hearing brought together those representing the private junior colleges who demonstrated their planned growth and their role in solving the gap in meeting the needs of future students.  They believed that adding public community colleges would only raise taxes and reduce available faculty to teach at the two-year institutions.  Frankly, they failed to see the need for public community colleges when the private colleges believed they could handle it themselves.  Countering their arguments, the Committee also heard from the Superintendent of Public Schools from Newington, Mr. John Wallace, a member of the Connecticut Association of School Superintendents.  He stated “the community college in not only thoroughly sound from every educational standpoint, but it is also the most economical kind of college to establish and operate.   One reason for this is that at least during the period of organization and in some cases on a more or less permanent basis, community colleges might use such facilities as the following in selecting senior high schools: classrooms, library, laboratories, gymnasium, and cafeteria. (Interim Committee, p. 6-7).  Also speaking at the public hearing was a delegation from the Norwalk Public Schools led by Martin Gruss [misspelled in the transcript as “Gross”], serving as Chairman of the Norwalk Board of Education.  Gruss demonstrated how a municipal community college would solve problems in geographic areas not well served by the private junior colleges and serve populations of students with financial hardships that would never be served by these same colleges.  Gruss went on to introduce the other Norwalk speakers staring with Mrs. Lynn Savitsky, Chairman of the Education of the local P.T.A. Council. She read a paper on need for more educational facilities quoting from the Commission on Human Resources and Advanced Training.  Mrs. John O’Connor of the Norwalk P.T.A. Board was the next speaker and she read an editorial from the Bridgeport Telegramtitled “Send a Boy to College” dated December 5, 1954 on the inability for most parents to pay the rising costs of college educations.  Mr. Artie, Chairman of Norwalk’s Post-Secondary Education Committee followed.  He stated that while the distance to Bridgeport was only 14-15 miles, public transportation which most students would use, was not very good and prevented students with economic need from working and carrying a full schedule.  Therefore, the availability of private junior colleges was not addressing the needs of potential college students in the Norwalk area.  Gruss summarized the two major points, the lack of facilities to meet the tremendous influx of students into higher education and the increased cost of college education.  Mr. James H. Halsey, president of the University of Bridgeport spoke in favor of developing community colleges.  He also raised the possibility of municipalities working with private colleges.  Mr. Nils Shalin, president of Quinnipiac College, stressed that it wouldn’t be a simple thing to add grades 13-14 onto the K-12 school systems.  He stressed that community colleges need their own campus facilities and their own faculties that these should not be dependent upon the public school systems.  (Interim Committee p. 14)


These statements reiterated the primary frustrations of many in the Norwalk who wanted to attend college and those who supported them.  With the growing demand for college during the post World War II era, there were limited opportunities for high school graduates and others whose education may have lapsed due to work  or service to the country, to find a place among the public or private institution of higher education in Connecticut.  Large increases in young adult populations wanting to further their education but with financial limitations could only compete for limited spaces in Connecticut public state institutions or pursue vocational alternatives.  With 20 year projections to 1970 demonstrating that the current public and private educational structure was inadequate to meet the growing demand, those seeking an alternative, municipal community colleges required State enabling legislation, that would allow municipal governments to create locally managed and supported community colleges.


The Enabling Act 

The House Majority Leader, Louis A. Padula, a representative from Norwalk was a strong proponent of community colleges.  He was instrumental in influencing many other legislators.   The public hearings continued to draw supporters from various organizations in Norwalk and this time the bill gained momentum came to a vote.  The Senate Bill No. 21, Public Act No. 232 “An Act Enabling Board of Education to Provide Post-Secondary Education” introduced in 1959 by Senator Sibal with active assistance of State Representatives Louis A. Padula, John Shostak, and John E. Vallerie, passed and was put into effect on July 1, 1959.  [See Appendix for the text of Public Act No. 232]  Local elections had to officially authorize local boards of education to conduct courses on the college level for the first two years in their own towns. (Barclay, p. 94-5)  Frankly the success of this bill had much to do with the fact it didn’t require any state funds, directly or indirectly and had wide spread support.


In a letter from Sherwin Rodin, Chairman of the Norwalk PTA Council Committee on Community Colleges, read at the Board of Education meeting on June 14, 1960, he urged the Board to add the creation of a community college to its agenda for discussion at an early date.  Mr. Rodin was also present at the Board meeting and personally urged the Board’s early approval so that steps could be taken to proceed with the necessary referendum and the ultimate approval by the voters of Norwalk.  “There is necessarily a delay time of at least a year, so that if the matter could come up for referendum this November, a community college could not hope to begin its operations until the following year.”  Rodin pressed the Board to make known its position on creating a community college.  Dr. Becker followed up and stated that the Norwalk Chamber of Commerce wanted to support a community college, through its efforts and financially and was awaiting the Board of Education’s decision. (Board’s Minutes dated June 14, 1960)


Barclay captures the enormous efforts undertaken to educate the citizens of Norwalk about the issues prior to the election in November.  Five groups coordinated their efforts and help public meetings.  Together the Central Council of the Parent Teachers Association, Norwalk Chapters of the League of Women Voters and the American Association of University Women, the Chamber of Commerce and the Citizens Committee for the Community College, strongly supported the bill and responded to concerns, primary among them were increased taxes.  To keep costs to a minimum, existing facilities, specifically the newly built $3,500,000 facility Brien McMahon High School would be used in the late afternoons and evenings when no high school classes were in session.  The Brien McMahon facility was completed in late 1960 and met or exceeded state specifications.


The election was held on Nov. 8, 1960 and the citizens of Norwalk overwhelmingly voted in favor of the proposal to create a community college by a vote of 10,324 to 2,192.  The success in Norwalk was attributed to its location in the industrialized section of the state with a strong democratic center during this time period.  It’s also important to note that the Democratic Party also controlled the Connecticut legislature and the Governor was a democrat.  Norwalk and more generally Fairfield County was then and is today the most affluent county in the State with major contributors to the Democratic political party. (Barclay p. 131)


Creating Norwalk Community College

Under the direction of Harry Becker and the Board of Education, Everett Baker, Vice-Principal of Norwalk High School and part-time Director of Adult Education for Norwalk Public Schools, was granted release time from his adult education duties in order to prepare for the accreditation review of the educational programs. (Board’s Minutes December 6, 1960) Six months later during an Executive Session of the Board of Education on June 20, 1961, Becker reported that he was recommending Mr. Everett I. L. Baker, presently Vice-Principal of Norwalk High School, as Dean of the Community College and Director of Adult Education.  Out of 45 applicants for the position, Becker said Baker proved to be the best qualified. He continued “in terms of the adult education position there is no one who approaches his qualifications, and in terms of the college position, he best meets the needs of the position in our Community College.”  The recommendation was approved by the Board and accepted according to the Minutes.


The Prospectus for the Organization of the Norwalk Community College was completed by Everett Baker on February 10, 1961 under the direction of Harry Becker.  The prospectus of the new community college included staff, curriculum, facilities, and the terms of the fees.  These final plans were then submitted to the State Department of Education on March 13, 1961 in the form of answers to a Questionnaire for the Review of Plans for the Establishment of the Norwalk Community College. (Barclay p.100-1)  The Questionnaire addressed all facets of the Community College including administration, (specifically naming Dr. Harry A. Becker as President, ex-officio, and Mr. Everett I.L. Baker as Dean)  curricula, faculty, finances, library, objectives, plant and equipment, records, students, and the supervision of instruction.


The competition for fund raising between institutions was no less intense than the competition for state funding itself as these exchanges from 1959 suggest.  The Norwalk Board of Education had received a letter dated February 3, 1959 from Mayor Freese concerning the raising of funds for the University of Connecticut, Stamford Branch. Under advisement from the Board, it was decided to write to the Mayor explaining the interest of the local Board in establishing a community college in Norwalk but if the Mayor wanted to appoint someone else in Norwalk to head the fund-raising committee, the Board would give that person as much cooperation as possible.    Mayor Freese replied back on March 24th that he would not ask anyone from Norwalk to give active leadership to the University of Connecticut Stamford campus fund raising campaign.  According to the Board Minutes of May 20, 1959, Dr. Becker informed the Board of Education that “in a conversation with Mr. [Sherman] Prothero [of the Chamber of Commerce], following passage of the community college bill by State legislature, he had learned that a group of Norwalk industrialists were on the point of agreeing to head a drive for the fund raising for the University of Connecticut branch in Stamford.  According to Mr. Prothero., the group was prepared to give $100,000.  When Mr. Prothero realized that the community college bill had passed both houses of the legislature, he took steps to have the local business leaders postpone affiliation with the Stamford drive.”


On April 18, 1961, the Connecticut Department of Education granted Norwalk Community College its license to operate as a junior college for a period of two years ending June 30, 1963 provided its plans were modified by the recommendations of Dean Grant Robley and Mowat G. Fraser chief of the Connecticut State Department of Education, Bureau of Higher and Adult Education. (Fraser)


There were nine recommendations made by Robley and Fraser that Baker implemented and included in a report of progress.  These included:

  • Developing a strong community college advisory council
  • Establishing an administrative plan to designate the Dean as the chief Administrative Officer of the College
  • Defining the degree requirements, hiring competent faculty, both full-time and part-time, setting up satisfactory tenure policies
  • Establishing entrance requirements that assure the opportunity for college level studies
  • Caution in admitting high school seniors to college courses
  • Adequate library staff and materials to support college work
  • A comprehensive budget reviewing certain calculations. (Fraser)

By the time of their interim visit to NCC on March 21, 1962 all concerns had been addressed and these areas became Commendations in the report dated May 11, 1962.  (The Board began to use the acronym “NCC” in its Minutes as of January 1962.)  Dr. Becker had assured the Board that the visit would be a routine matter as all issues had been addressed during the first year of operation.  (Board’s Minutes March 6, 1962)


There were also six items listed under “Recommendations for improvement” that focused attention on both longer term goals and specific requests. (See Appendix)  Responding to these recommended areas was critical to the accreditation process, for although NCC had a license to operate as a community college, they were not yet accredited.   Without accreditation, NCC would not be permitted to grant Associate Degrees within the expected two year period of attendance by its students.  Toward this end, Dean Everett Baker expended much effort in responding to the lengthy Questionnaire for the Evaluation of the Norwalk Community College which provided objectives of the college in terms of general education, occupational outcomes and in the development of the individual students; a thorough description of the responsibilities of the administration of the college, specifically its Board, the Citizens Advisory Council, the President, the Dean, and the Faculty.  In all, there were 40 questions covering every facet of college related activities and resources. The objectives of the College and descriptions of the administration are available in the Appendix.


While Everett Baker had completed all of the necessary requirements for accreditation, and had been informed that on March 6, 1963 the Connecticut State Commission for Higher Education officially accredited the College and authorized it to conduct programs in Liberal Arts and Sciences, and in the field of Business leading to the Associate Degree, a last minute effort by Norwalk’s State Representative Louis J. Padula was necessary.  Although Bill 3934 for accreditation passed through the Republican controlled House without difficulty, the Education Committee held it up in the Senate just days prior to NCC’s first scheduled graduation.  The bill would permit “Norwalk Community College to confer such degrees and grant such diplomas as is customary in institutions of higher learning.”  Without the passage of the bill, all the students graduating in NCC’s first class on June 9th would not receive diplomas from a state accredited institution.  Mr. Padula, then House majority leader, according to the Norwalk Hour, threatened to withhold important Senate bills unless the college bill passed.  Senate leaders ordered the bill brought to the floor and it was adopted in short order.  Governor John Dempsey sent a telegram to Dean Everett Baker on June 5, 1963 saying he had signed the bill granting the college the power to confer degrees and diplomas.   (Norwalk Hour June 5, 1963)


The Citizens Advisory Council

Critical to the success of NCC in its early years was the dedication of the members of the Board of Education as well as the members of the Citizens Advisory Council.  All members served without compensation but shared the goal to provide higher education in Norwalk.  It was this group that served on committees that was responsible for the actual operation of the College.  Their work was officially designated as the policy making body of the College subject to the approval of the Norwalk Board of Education.

There were 75 citizens who participated in the Citizens Advisory Council and accomplished the detailed work of admissions, academic standards, budget, curriculum, facilities, faculty, nominations, long range planning, publicity, scholarship and loan, student personnel, and the library.  Lists of members of these dedicated people and the By-Laws of the Advisory Council can be found in the Appendices.  The first officers of the Citizens Advisory Council of NCC were Attorney Max R. Lepofsky, chairman; Mrs. Preston N. (Madeline) Bernard, vice-chairman, Carroll Cavanagh, treasurer, Mrs. Howard Green, secretary. Max Lepofsky was elected to a second two-year term as chairman in May 1963.  Madeline Bernard remained as vice-chairman and Fred M. Barr became treasurer.  Attorney Marvin I. Gruss and Vice Admiral George F. Hussey Jr., were elected to one year terms as members-at-large of the executive committee.  (Norwalk Hour, May 24, 1963)  By January 1966, Madeline Bernard became Chairman; Marvin Gruss, Vice-Chairman; Fred M. Barr remained treasurer; and Mrs. Walter Hall was secretary.


This is one illustration of how the Council worked with the Dean and NCC faculty.  “Changes in the curricula offered at the College usually are suggested by the faculty and administration and reviewed by the Curriculum Committee of the Citizens Advisory Council.  The Committee may, however, originate suggestions. (Questionnaire 1966 p. 4; see the Appendix for the list of committee with the names of chairs and members.)


Among these dedicated members of the Citizens Advisory Council were a former Assistant Dean of the Harvard Business School, who was now the president of the Board of Trustees of the Norwalk Hospital, the Director of Development and Planning of Norwalk Hospital, a retired television producer, the Director of Education Services of Columbia Records, the Executive Director of the United Fund, a former Superintendent of Schools and former staff member of the U.S. Office of Education, three personnel directors, a manufacturer, a retail merchant, the proprietor of a beauty salon, a publishing company executive, a college professor, two school teachers, the director of a private school, a YWCA physical education instructor, the president of a management consultant firm, a clergyman, the president of an automobile agency, the Executive Director of the Jewish Family Service of New York City, an interior decorator, an industrial designer, and a Certified Public Accountant.  Also included on the Council were seven engineers, three physicians, three librarians, two pharmacists, two bankers, six lawyers, two housewives, a nurse, a city planning consultant, an education specialist, three industrial executives, a retired Admiral, a purchasing agent, a service representative for a fuel oil company, a real estate and insurance executive, four industrial department managers, two sales managers, and two former school teachers. Nine of these members are former members of the Board of Education. (Questionnaire, 1966)   Under the leadership of Max Lepofsky and the Citizens Advisory Council, NCC gained recognition throughout Fairfield County and beyond.


In 1964, the Sylvester Fund was established by NCC in memory of Arthur D. Sylvester who had been of one the original members of the Citizens Advisory Council.  The fund sponsors an annual speaker who also engages the students in informal discussion over a day or two.  The first speaker was Dr. Francis Horn, President of the University of Rhode Island.



Administration and Faculty

Dr. Becker’s foremost concern was the development of the educational program at the highest level.  He was responsible for personnel policies and interactions with and maintaining support of the public, alumni, and the legislators.  He assured the Board that sound business practices were adhered to for all expenditures and management.


Everett Baker was the chief administrative officer.  His responsibility was to work with the Citizens Advisory Council and its numerous committees to assure sound functioning of the College.  He interpreted and implemented policies, responded to the State Board of Higher Education, spoke on behalf of the faculty, developed a strong spirit of loyalty among the faculty to the College, and dedicated the actions of everyone at the College to the development and success of the students.


Sometimes their roles overlapped.  It was Everett Baker who went to Hartford on behalf of Dr Harry Becker and himself, to meet the Committee on Education at the State Capitol to support two bills to affect changes to Connecticut community colleges.   Both bills were submitted to the General Assembly by Representatives Louis Padula and John Shostak.  HB 3359 was an act that recognized Connecticut community colleges as “upward extensions of secondary education” so that they would be eligible for benefits under the National Defense Education Act.  The other bill, HB 3344 amended the method of determining how full-time community college students are counted.  State aid would reduce the tuition charges made to community college students.  The co-chairman of the Committee on Education, Frank J. DiLoreto and Guido LaGrotta, received endorsement of both bills from Attorney Ernest L. Josem, chairman of the Norwalk Board of Education and from Joseph I. Shulman, chairman of the Committee on Higher Education. (Norwalk Hour, March 20, 1963)


The faculty was given responsibilities to make recommendation to the Council on matters concerning admissions, academic standards, curriculum, and graduation requirements.  These recommendations were subject to the review of the Citizens Advisory Council and the Norwalk Board of Education.  The faculty held meetings within disciplines during these first years as a municipal College for English, foreign languages, mathematics, science, social studies, and psychology.


In 1961-62 there were only three full-time faculty and 21 part-time instructors.  By 1965-66 the number of full-time faculty increased to 17 full-time faculty and 47 part-time instructors.


Faculty was given a high degree of academic freedom to teach their subjects with “the full awareness that they are members of a non-sectarian, public college in a democratic society.” (Questionnaire 1966 p. 30) The Norwalk Board of Education was traditionally viewed as a liberal institution in a broad minded community.  Faculty salaries were based on the salary scale of Norwalk Public School teachers which was compared favorably to many colleges.  While preference was given to local residents, faculty positions were advertised at leading colleges, universities and teacher agencies.  The Faculty by law had to be members of the Connecticut Teachers Retirement Association with options for individual plans. They were also members of the Connecticut Education Association. (Questionnaire 1966)


Additional administrative hires included the Director of Student Personnel, Hobart P. Pardee, the Director of the Division of Business Administration, Joseph G. Woods, the Director of Admissions and Registrar, Frank S. Wright, Bursar Robert A. Verna; Student Counselor and Instructor, Joseph Jayko, Student Counselor (part-time) Mary W. Brackett; and Librarian (part-time) Fyle Edberg .  In addition to these individuals hired by NCC, staff members of the Norwalk Public Schools performed many services gratis to the College.  These individuals included the Superintendent of Schools, the Assistant Superintendent for Financial Affairs, the Chief Accountant and various department chairs and other experts contributed their time and experience.  In addition, the Maintenance Director and his staff assisted as needed.  The Board of Education also absorbed minor capital improvements, and all utilities.  Financially, the College was able to pay faculty and administrative salary expenditures, library materials, other supplies, and most expenses from the income from students’ tuition.  For the rest, the College used tax dollars budgeted by the Norwalk Board of Education. (Questionnaire, 1966)



NCC’s First Home at Norwalk’s Brien McMahon High School

While use of the newly built Brien McMahon High School on Highland Avenue solved the immediate problems of where to hold classes, it was not an ideal situation and was never meant to be permanent.  The principal of Brien McMahon High School, Dr. Luther A. Howard, and his staff shared the facilities in a spirit of friendly co-operation.  NCC held classes in 35 standard classrooms as well as used 37 special rooms for music, industrial arts, business education, home economics, fine arts, eight science labs, a language lab, and two gymnasiums.  Classes were held from 2:00 pm to 10:00 pm daily after regular high school hours.  The Norwalk Hour notes on June 3, 1963 shortly before the first graduation of the College, “This enterprising day and night use of a magnificently equipped new school building is attracting increasing comment from other communities.  The degree of its success among students in Norwalk may be gauged from the fact that at present new applications for enrollment next fall now equal the total enrollment of the first semester in 1961.  And most of these are from high school seniors who will be graduating this month.”


By June of 1963 the Board of Education was aware that the use of Brien McMahon facilities by the College was nearing capacity of classroom space and in terms of the library which needed to grow quickly and although only satisfying a minimal sized collection, it was already at capacity.  The Citizens Advisory Council suggested to the Board of Education “it might be wise to consider land adjacent to Brien McMahon school property for possible future expansion.”  (Norwalk Hour April 1, 1963)  Architects presented plans for additional administrative offices and a student lounge area in May 1963.  By December 1963 Dr. Becker estimated enrollment at NCC to top 750 students and while Brien McMahon could handle that increase, he implored the Board to “begin working on the problem of new housing at once.”    The Board had just approved the usage of Columbus-Lincoln, Norwalk High School and Roosevelt School as bomb shelters in the event of an emergency at the request of the Norwalk Civil Defense days before the Cuban Missile Crisis.  (Norwalk Hour October 3, 1963)  A year later the Community College Committee of the Chamber of Commerce recommended to the Advisory Board of Community College the need to project future student enrollment, facilities and equipment, and that the Planning Commission needed to determine available land on which to build providing for future expansion.  Future land options in 1964 included the possibility of the Gallaher property then owned by the Stevens Institute of Technology.  The Community College Committee of the Chamber of Commerce also recommended a meeting with the first selectmen and superintendent of schools of New Canaan, Darien, Westport, and Wilton to discuss making the local college an area institution.  (Norwalk Hour, Oct. 10, 1964)   Physical space limitations continued for many years to be an issue for Norwalk Community College.


In 1965, an application was made for federal aid under the Higher Education Act of 1963 to secure funding for a one million dollar general-purpose facility.  A grant of $100,000 was pledged by The Frank Chase Estate if the remainder of the funds could be raised through federal aid and additional pledges. (Questionnaire, 1966)  This pledge assumed the College would remain under the control of the City of Norwalk.


Additional funds, over $106,000, were secured from the federal government under the Vocational Education Act of 1963 for equipment and books for business programs.  In response to their request for additional space the Board of Education offered the College full use of half of the Nathaniel Ely Elementary School effective September 1965.  NCC’s new Division of Business Administration moved into the Ely School, with its own business library.  (Questionnaire 1966, p. 22)


Continuous development of the NCC Library was necessary for accreditation by the state and also as a basic resource for the College.  Max Lepofsky, during his tenure as chairman of the Advisory Council, expressed concern at the depletion of library funds and launched a new campaign in the summer of 1963 to revitalize library funding through the efforts of the Financial Advisory Committee which included among its members every council officers and committee chairmen.  (Norwalk Hour May 8, 1963)  Donations of cash to the Library Fund and book donations were noted in the Norwalk Hour periodically and also in the Minutes of the Advisory Council.  Donations were also made for specific equipment for the college.  In December 1963, the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (later 3M) selected 500 colleges by grant application, including NCC, to receive $3,000 worth of teaching tools including a visual communication system, overhead projects, transparency makes, transparency film and copy paper. (Norwalk Hour Dec. 10, 1963).


NCC Programs and Students        

During the years that NCC was a municipal college, it did not have an open enrollment policy.  Applicants were screened based on their academic achievement in high school, results of the Entrance Battery of Tests (including the School and College Ability Test known as SCAT available from the Cooperative Testing Service in Princeton, NJ), College Entrance Examination Board scores if available, a personal interview, and the health of the applicant.  Students were evaluated on their potential ability to successfully complete college level course work.  All applicants had to be graduates of an approved secondary school or earned a State High School Equivalency Certificate.


Students whose backgrounds were not academically sound but demonstrated a probability of success were admitted as probationary students which would be removed if a “C” average was earned for a minimum of 12 credit hours.  Those students who were required to take more than two remedial courses were admitted as special students.  If successful, they could apply for admission as matriculated students.  NCC announcements of upcoming entrance exam dates were announced in the Norwalk Hour to allow students who needed to take pre-college courses to do so over the summer. (Norwalk Hour June 4, 1963)


Within the first two years of the College, other colleges were accepting transfer students from NCC with credit for courses taken.  These colleges included the University of Bridgeport, Southern Connecticut State College, Long Island University, Danbury State College, University of Connecticut, College of Advance Science, Salem College, Orange Community College, Rocky Mountain College, New England College, Washington State Teachers College, American International College, University of Michigan, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (Norwalk Hour Feb. 27, 1963)
The programs available at NCC by 1965-65 included Liberal Arts, General Education, Nursing Program in conjunction with the Norwalk Hospital School of Nursing, and Accounting Business Administration with majors in accounting, general business, marketing, data processing, traffic and transportation, secretarial studies with options for executive secretary, legal secretary, medical secretary, and technical science.  Beginning in 1965-66 NCC also instituted a foreign language requirement for Liberal Arts.  The Nursing Program provided the academic program for student nurses preparing for the registered nurse license.  It was part of the three-year nursing program offered by the Norwalk Hospital School of Nursing.


The student full-time enrollment data for the fall semester showed continuous growth in the five year period from 1961 to 1965.  NCC received accreditation in 1963.


The fall class of 1965 included 588 male and 182 female full-time students and 220 male and 249 female part-time students.  There were 306 students enrolled for the summer of 1965.  The geographically diversity of students included only eight non-residents of Connecticut, two from New York, one student from each of these countries: Costa Rica, Ecuador, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Ninety-five percent of NCC’s full-time students lived within 20 miles of the College.  (Questionnaire 1966, p. 24)

Year                            Freshmen               Sophomores                  Total

1961 60 0 60
1962 95 29 124
1963 186 38 224
1964 329 45 374
1965 622 148 770

Total: 1,239


NCC sponsored extra-curricular student activities included:

  • Athletics
  • Student Government
  • Ski Club
  • College Paper
  • Literary Magazine
  • Sociology-Anthropology Club
  • Outing Club
  • Sky Diving Club
  • Yearbook
  • Men’s Social Fraternity
  • Convocations (8 per year; 5 are required)
  • Chorus
  • Com Col Capers (a variety show)
  • Snowbound Dance Homecoming (for alumni)


Activities of the student body were a factor in the formal accreditation of NCC by the Connecticut State Board of Education according to Dean Everett Baker. “While their extracurricular activities include Ski Club trips and foreign language club trips to such places as the United Nations, the Metropolitan Museum and other international and cultural centers, they also have a sense of civic mindedness.  For example the Student Government co-sponsored the Red Cross bloodmobile drive with the Automatic Signal Division of Laboratory for Electronics, Inc. on March 12, 1963.  This activity involved cooperation with the Norwalk State Technical Institute where the bloodmobile was located.  (Norwalk Hour, March 20, 1963)

Not everything progressed smoothly in the early years of NCC.  In an interview with Lea Mintz, who served on various committees of the Norwalk Board of Education from the 1950s and then on the Board itself from1966 to 1972 including a term as president, she spoke of terrible friction between the parents and the people at Brien McMahon and the new College over the propriety feelings about the use of the new high school.  One particular area of friction was the need to use the science-chem labs but there were several others including the overlap in need of facilities for high school sports after school.  The only mention of animosities that made the Norwalk Hour on June 19, 1963, was the report of the burning of the three-foot by five-foot sign indicating the site of the Norwalk Community College.  It was severely scorched by the flames and the Fire Department did find an inflammable liquid at the scene that had been used to start the fire.  The sign was valued at $300.  The damage was attributed to vandals.  According to the article in the Norwalk Hour, it was the second time in six months that the sign had been damaged by vandals.


Impact Beyond Norwalk’s City Limits

The establishment of Norwalk Community College was of great interest

among other educators in the state.  Dean Everett Baker spoke to the Education Association of Connecticut in March of 1963 on the development of the College.  The Association is comprised of staff from the Department of Higher Education at all levels from directors and staff of instructional services, administrative services and vocational education as well as chiefs and members of educational bureaus.  They were impressed by the achievement of running the College without any additional cost in plant and facilities from the local taxpayers.  Aside from the economical use of existing school facilities, guaranteeing opportunities for higher education to all qualified students, expanding educational services to the community at the lowest possible cost, left deep impressions upon the educators.  Dean Baker also spoke about the qualified faculty, the high morale of the student body and the response of the public surpassing the College’s most optimistic expectations. (Norwalk Hour, March 12, 1963)

In spring 1964 and again in November, NCC and Manchester Community College co-sponsored conferences to inform and assist communities who were planning to develop a public community college.  Prior to the end of the Conference in November, the newly created Connecticut Association for Public Community Colleges appointed a By-laws committee that included Dr. Becker.  Sixteen delegations from other communities in Connecticut who were hopeful of starting their own public community colleges as well as educators throughout the state attended and met with the Citizen Advisory Councils of both Colleges, state legislators, city government officials, civic leaders, and state and local educators including the Governor’s Commission on Higher Education.   Dr. Becker presided at the afternoon session that included the address of Dr. Mowat G. Fraser, who addressed the conference on public community colleges and the challenge of rising enrollment.  The audience heard the estimates, that thousands of students were unable to attend college for financial and other reasons.  Community colleges within easy commuting distances from their homes were seen as the solution for the majority of these students.  At this conference, a resolution passed to urge the Legislature and the State Board of Education to provide adequate financial assistance for public community colleges.  Dr. George Sanborn of the State Department of Education spoke later in the day at the conference and announced an opinion from the State Attorney General that public community colleges are eligible for State aid for new buildings or alternations under existing legislation.  This meant that Norwalk Community College could obtain 40% aid under the Federal Higher Education Act, and up to 50% aid from State legislation.    (Bridgeport Post, November 19, 1964)  The best chance for success would be to find a site already owned by the City of Norwalk.  The College only needed 10% of the cost.  A month later on December 16, 1964 the headlines of the Norwalk Hour claim “School Board to Seek Grants for College’ Considers $1 Million Unit in Cranbury.”  The article indicates the Board of Education voted to apply for $500,000 from the state and $400,000 from the federal government and the prospect of raising $100,000 from a private donor within the month, possibly from the Fran Chase Estate of $250,000 bequeathed to the City of Norwalk months previously. The College was supported in this effort by the City of Norwalk Mayor Frank J. Cooke.


Plan for a State System of Community Colleges in Connecticut

On an altogether separate timeline were the higher education hearings and meetings held in 1963 by the Joint Standing Committee on Education to study the state’s higher education needs.  The Commission created by this Committee hired federal researchers, led by Dr. M.W. Stout of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to investigate why the State of Connecticut was not meeting the educational needs of citizens and recommend how to proceed.  In a critical report of poor performance, one of the recommendations in the final report was a statewide system of public community college under a separate agency.  Stout charged that the lack of a central higher education authority resulted in various institutions vying for their own growth without concern for the broader educational issues or educational opportunities for all.  The report expressed concern over the high tuition at the municipal community colleges in Norwalk and Manchester which would turn away students and noted that the laws that created these institutions were inadequate.  The use of high schools hampered the development of the community colleges for they could expand after the first few years.  The Stout report was published by the State of Connecticut in 1964.  (Cunningham)

Building upon the Stout report, the Commission on Higher Education proposed to the governor in Dec. 1964 a comprehensive plan of higher education.  One of the highlights of the report of the Study Commission on Higher Education was the creation of a statewide system of public community colleges.  It further recommended that community colleges be located so as to provide every Connecticut student a community college within reasonable commuting distance.”  It was believed that community colleges could be established quickly as they could share high school facilities and thereby reduce state expenditures on facilities.

In June of 1965 the General Assembly passed a comprehensive Connecticut Higher Education Act (P.A. 330) designed to bring the University of Connecticut, the state colleges, and the community colleges under one higher education authority.  The General Assembly established a twelve member State Board of Trustees for Regional Community Colleges.  The Governor made these appointments to the Board of Trustees for two, four, of six year terms (end of each term is follows each trustee’s name): Mrs. Katherine Bourn, chairman (1971), Max Lepofsky, vice-chairman (1971), Mrs. Ruth W. Greenberg, secretary (1971), and Mrs. Doris Devera (1967), Henry E. Fagan (1969), Mrs. Elizabeth Joyner (1969), Paul Mali (1967), John McDevitt (1971), Vincent J. Scampoinro (1967), Mrs. Beryl Strout (1969), Mrs. Marjorie Terrell (1967), and Max R. Traurig (1969).    These members of the State Board represented 12 cities in geographically distributed regions around the state: Manchester, Norwalk, Bethany, Stafford Springs, Stratford, Winchester, Groton, New Haven, Middletown, Wallingford, West Hartford and Waterbury.  The Executive Officer of the State System of Community Colleges was Theodore Powell.  The State Legislature appropriated $1 million dollars for construction to support the state system.  (Orvis)

The Board of Trustees for Regional Community Colleges’ authority included administering the State System of Community Colleges, providing programs of study for college transfer, terminal vocational, retraining and continuing education leading to occupational certificates or to the degrees of Associate in Art and Associate in Science.  Also implied in Public Act 330 was a strong commitment to the development of broader higher educational opportunities by the people of Connecticut.   The first step was to transfer to state jurisdiction Norwalk and Manchester community colleges that had operated under municipal boards of education.  (Digest)

Manchester, like Norwalk, had opened a municipal college under their Superintendent of Public Schools, William H. Curtis in the fall 1962 just one year after NCC opened.   A third institution had been planned by the local citizens’ committee in Winsted to open in fall 1965.  Northwestern Connecticut Community College opened its door under state authority on September 1, 1965 and began classes on September 29, 1965 with 10 full-time employees and one part-time employee.  Manchester Community College which had been holding classes in Manchester High School, was also transferred to state jurisdiction on September 1, 1965.   Manchester had 9 full-time and 45 part-time employees.  Norwalk Community College was transferred to the state regional system on Feb. 1, 1966 with 22 full-time and 55 part-time employees.  (Digest)

The Norwalk Board of Education indicated in its Minutes, the desire to have the College join the state system of Regional Community Colleges shortly after the passage of Public Act 330 and the reorganization of public higher education in Connecticut.  Dean Baker outlined the preliminary stages for the transition to state control in line with the Connecticut Higher Education Act.  During this transitional year, the Citizens Advisory Council ceased to make long range plans for the College but continued its efforts to raise funds to support the Scholarship-Loan Fund.  A consolidation of the “Friends of Norwalk Community College” was also in process with the focus on becoming a separate corporation or foundation to continue their work in fundraising for the College. (Questionnaire, 1966 p. 21)    The Treasurer’s Report to the Citizens Advisory Council at the September 30, 1965 meeting notes that the monies in the Sylvester Fund ($3,867.00) and the Scholarship Fund ($2,982.00) will be transferred to an account entitled “Friends of Norwalk Community College” with Fred Barr and David Baumgarten as co-signators.  Lea Mintz recalled that time well.  She wanted Norwalk to be the first and the best among the state colleges.  Because of the financial problems in the City of Norwalk, the Board of Education continued to cut back on many initiatives, such as sufficient funds to support kindergarten programs.  It made no sense to keep NCC as a municipal institution if the State was willing to support it.  This made the most sense at the time. (Mintz)


While the Board of Education supported the statewide organization, members of the College’s Advisory Council had passed a resolution calling on the Board of Education to postpone for 18 months its decision to place the school under state control.  The two primarily reasons for the delay were Norwalk’s failure to receive from the state sufficient funds to cover its proposed budget for 1965-66 thereby limiting enrollment, and the second reason was the removal of local decision making.  The difference in the budget was primarily due to higher salary levels for faculty as set by the State Board of Regional Community Colleges.   (Norwalk Hour October 13, 1965 p. 1)  The smaller budget would require limiting enrollment at NCC which philosophically was in opposition to Norwalk’s approach to make college education available to all who desire it.  (Norwalk Hour, September 24, 1965 p.1-2)  The State Board of Regional Community Colleges had not only imposed the higher faculty salaries on the community colleges, but it also surprised the Commission on Higher Education which bears the responsibility for planning and coordination for the educational system in the state.  The State Boards’ quick  decisions also included the hiring of an executive officer, with the new title of president, at a salary of $19,000 which was $3,000 more than the community college presidents were to earn. While all legal, these actions resulted in a public outcry in Norwalk. (Norwalk Hour October 21, 1965)

By late October, no final agreement was made by the Norwalk Board of Education to join the State community college system.   The Advisory Board hoped the next year’s General Assembly would assist with Norwalk’s full budget. But State Representative Louis J. Padula warned of the dangers of going-it-alone in financial terms.  Padula said it “would be a serious mistake for Norwalk to believe that in go-it-alone status, the city’s junior community college will receive any special financial consideration from the General Assembly.  I can tell them right now that there will be no sympathetic ear for Norwalk in the Legislature if it decides not to join the system…There is no guarantee … that at the end of 18 months, the state would then accept Norwalk institution into the system.  By that time, he predicted, there will be a state community college in this same area and the state may not be receptive to adding another.”  (Herald, November 21, 1965 p. 16)

The Board of Education made the decision to join the state system.  With the closure of Norwalk Community College as a municipal institution under the direction of the Norwalk Board of Education, Harry Becker stepped down as president on January 31, 1966.  Everett I. L. Baker became president on February 1, 1966.  According to President Baker’s Annual Report for 1965-1966, when agreement was finally reached on budgetary arrangements that made it likely that all students who applied in September, 1966 could be admitted, final agreements were reached and the papers providing for the transfer signed by Governor Dempsey and other officials on March 11, 1966, making entry into the System retroactive to February 1, 1966.”   Thus on February 1, 1966 the control of the College was passed to the State of Connecticut from the City of Norwalk and the College became a member of the State system under the jurisdiction of the State Board of Trustees for Regional Community Colleges.