In the 1930s, the Great Depression gripped our nation. In 1931, the Star-Spangled Banner became our national anthem, and gangster Al Capone was convicted. In 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president while Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly. The year 1936 saw Jesse Owens win four Gold Medals in the Olympics held in Berlin, Germany, breaking Olympic and world records; German Chancellor Adolf Hitler did not recognize them. Radio shows were popular and big band music had people dancing the foxtrot, lindy hop, Charleston and jitterbug.
Jackson College was born in later years of the 1920s. To meet the demands of the changing workplace and economic climate, there was a need for more high school students to go to college and gain education beyond high school. Many students, however, were reluctant or unable to travel far from home to attend college.
To meet this need, members of the governing board of the Jackson Union School District founded Jackson Junior College. College classes met in what had been an old family home in downtown Jackson, at the west end of Jackson High School, which was subsequently named E.O. Marsh Hall. Laboratory, library, gymnasium, classroom and auditorium facilities were shared with the high school.
The curriculum was patterned after the University of Michigan, with the thought that students could transfer after two years in Jackson. After the first year, an inspection committee from the University of Michigan reviewed the new institution very carefully and had reported that “an excellent start has been made,” rating the JJC courses on a par with their own. The University immediately began accepting JJC transfer students without loss of grade points or credit hours.
Jackson Junior College opened with a total staff of 14, and the first year saw 113 students enrolled – higher than what school officials had expected. Unfortunately, October 1929 saw the Wall Street Stock Market Crash which started what would become the Great Depression of the 1930s. The Depression cut deeply into college enrollments across the country, and Jackson was no different. Of the 113 students who began at the College, only 34 graduated two years later.
That first class, however, did have many who graduated and remained in the community. Robert Whiting became a longtime member of the College’s faculty and was active in the local Audubon Society. Class president Floyd J. Poole became a Jackson County Clerk for many years. Many among that first class would send their sons and daughters to the College in later years.
Despite the Depression, the young college survived, adapting itself to the needs of the community. By the mid-1930s, the enrollment began to creep upward again. The first two-year terminal course that could be completed was a secretarial program started in 1935. By fall of 1939, enrollment had reached 327, with 50 coming from outside the Union School district and five more from out of state.
In 1938, the Board of Education authorized organization of the junior college into two divisions, a division of Arts and Science for students interested in transferring to a four-year college, and a division of General Studies for those enrolled in two-year programs or other not leading to graduation from a senior college.