Change and civil unrest were trends in the 1960s. Freedom riders challenged segregation in the South. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke out for civil rights, including his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. He would be assassinated in 1968. President John F. Kennedy challenged America to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade, accomplished by Neil Armstrong in 1969. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. U.S involvement in the Vietnam War grew throughout the decade. The Beatles were a hit on the radio the Motown sound was popular, especially in Michigan.
The 1960s were a time of change at Jackson College as well as across the country. Planning that had begun in the 1950s for a community college continued. As enrollments continued to soar to the 2,000-mark with no change in sight, Jackson-area educators considered the future. In January 1960, a General Citizens Advisory committee for Jackson, Hillsdale and Lenawee counties began meeting. County superintendents and county board of education presidents, educators and civic leaders comprised the committee. The committee felt a study was necessary because of projected population growth that predicted enrollments of 4,000 to 5,000 by the year 1975. Because current facilities were inadequate with no possibility of expansion on their current site, leaders began to look to new opportunities.
In the meantime, what was known as the West Intermediate school building was used by Jackson Junior College in 1962, upon completing of the new Hunt junior high. It was renamed the Cortland building and housed most of the College’s classes throughout the mid-1960s.
Early in 1961, a detailed study was made of the post-high school requirements of the Jackson, Lenawee and Hillsdale county areas. Their findings, published after some six month’s work, showed clearly that the three counties would be best served by creating a three-county community college district and assuming control of Jackson Junior College. In an election on the issue, two of the counties turned the proposal down. But Jackson County voters, long used to having a community college in their midst, supported the measure by more than two-to-one.
The following November, a proposal to create a community college district of Jackson County was submitted to the voters. Again they supported the idea and, at the same time, they elected six trustees to represent them as the governing body of the proposed new college. Among those first trustees was George Potter, an alumnus of the junior college, who would go on to serve on the board for 44 years. In February and again in October of 1963, the trustees tried to gain support for a millage necessary to create and operate the new college, failing both times. In the meantime at least six other Michigan counties had created countywide community college districts, had voted the necessary financing and were at work on building new colleges.
The plan to broaden JJC’s support throughout the county had, meanwhile, been given a boost in August of 1961 when Jackson industrialist J. Sterling Wickwire offered the county some 270 acres or property south of the city as a possible site for the new facility. However, because of the way the bequest was made, it did not work out for the college site.
Trying for the third time, the community college trustees once more submitted their plan to the voters in the general elections of November, 1964. Voters approved a 1.3-mill tax to pay to operate the new community college. This time the proposal carried strongly, and Jackson Junior College found itself about to become Jackson Community College. In each of the elections leading to the successful vote, JJC students worked to build up support for the proposal.
In 1965, Jackson Community College began countywide operation. The new college kept its colors, maroon and old gold, but changed its nickname to the “Golden Jets.” The year also saw the first community college graduates, with 53 graduating in the college’s Cortland Building auditorium. Construction on a new campus began in 1966, with much excitement. The first building was Justin R. Whiting Vocational-technical built. Completed in 1968, it was designed to serve the vocational and engineering areas of the community college program. From its beginning, the community college was tied closely with its community, meeting increasing needs for vocational education, extending programs in public services and health services, and providing accessibility to the disadvantaged and physically challenged.
The second building completed on the new community college campus was the James A. McDivitt Jr. Hall of Science, and a Campus Services Building, which housed a student commons, food services and college bookstore, was also constructed. Following a dedication ceremony in 1969, Whiting and McDivitt halls served the entire student population. More building on the new campus would continue into the 1970s.
Throughout the establishing of the new community college, education and student life continued. While Jackson Junior College had female cheerleaders for years, in 1964, the Women’s Recreation Association of Michigan granted JJC permission to form a WRA on campus. Sports such as basketball, volleyball, swimming, golf and tennis were offered to JJC coeds.
In 1969, the College took a step forward technologically when it connected with a three-computer complex operated by General Electric at Cleveland, Ohio. A program (or problem) was presented to one of the computers, and in about a quarter second, an answer came back. The service’s name was Fortran, the language for solving scientific-type problems. The College connected through a teletype machine. With the service, in fall, a new engineering course was offered, computer science.
By 1969, everyone had moved to the new campus, and the president’s office was temporarily located on the first floor of McDivitt Hall of Science. John George Hall was being vacated, and the library also moved into the lobby of McDivitt Hall, where it stayed until Bert Walker Hall was completed in 1971, and it was moved into its new space.