The decade of the 1980s saw former actor Ronald Reagan serving as president, and times of major change around the world as Mikhail Gorbachev lead the Soviet Union into what would be the end of an era. At home, young people were breakdancing to music on boom boxes, and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was everywhere. Children kept their Cabbage Patch Dolls and Care Bears, and teens donned mullets and became “mallrats.” Sally Ride became the first woman in space, and America witnessed the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986, which claimed seven, including teacher Christa McAuliffe. In 1989, the Berlin Wall was torn down.
Jackson Community College persevered through the 1980s, but it was a difficult decade on many fronts. Following Harold Sheffer’s retirement in 1981, Clyde LeTarte became president of JCC.
Jackson County suffered a severe economic downturn during the 1980s. Having always been tied to industry, especially the auto industry, many Jackson businesses were lost as other industries failed, closed or moved out of the county. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company and Clark Equipment Company closed during this time. Nearly 4,000 people were laid off. With close ties to the community and accessibility of a local campus, JCC offered an opportunity for many to campus for education and retraining.
New departments came into being during this time. Community and Business Services, an outgrowth of earlier continuing education offices, developed to fulfill training needs. College staff and faculty worked to create a multitude of training opportunities for employers and for unemployed and underemployed workers. The Job Training Institute, the Entrepreneurial Center, the Personnel Development Institute, Continuing Education, an industrial incubator and courses for senior citizens were all part. Continuing education offerings were strong, at one time serving more than 1,500 senior citizens and 500 adults.
Economic limitations caused college leaders to tighten their belt. In 1982, budget constraints led the Board to discontinue intercollegiate athletics programs completely, with basketball being the last to go. President Clyde LeTarte said that the decision to eliminate athletics was one of the most difficult decisions that he ever made.
While the decision was difficult, JCC did continue to help Jackson County get active. Rather than sending sports teams out, health and physical education staff welcomed the community to the fieldhouse for fitness and hosted events such as the Ultimate Health Experience – Ultimate Runner, and businesses for the Corporate Challenge relays. The focus switched to health and wellness, motivating people to change behavior. Faculty got involved with the local Jackson Wellness Committee to help reach more people. LeTarte shared “What good does it do, JCC physical education instructors ask, for the college to prepare people for careers if their health habits contribute to illnesses that keep them from fulfilling those careers?”
To help support the College and its students, the Jackson Community College Foundation formed in 1983. Sensing future trends in the areas of development and community support, the Board determined that an institutional foundation, whose role was to provide assistance only to the College, would be beneficial throughout the future. The Foundation maintains a tax-exempt status and is an independent corporation. Since its inception, the Foundation, from its own assets and management of the College’s loaned funds, has offered thousands of dollars in support to the College, primarily in grants, programs and scholarships.
College life continued educating more and more students for transfer and careers. With the completion of the George E. Potter Center for the Performing Arts and the formation of a Michigan School of the Arts, drama, dance and music were center stage. Broadway show troupe the Starfleet Ambassadors highlighted Jackson’s talent, and in 1987, the Jackson Community Concert Band formed. Comprised of both college students and community members, the band still exists today.
Instructional programs continued to grow, and technology needs prompted the opening of the first computer lab in 1986, a Mac lab. Developmental education opportunities advanced to better help all students become prepared for college. In 1989, the College launched a scholarship program for students identified in sixth-grade who went on to successfully graduated high school, CARE (Concerned Adults Responding Early). It was supported for a number of years by a classic car show fundraiser that drew hundreds to campus.
The College’s reach outward continued in 1989 with the opening of the Lenawee Center in Adrian. This location allowed for consolidation of instruction and student services activities that had been taking place at several locations in Lenawee County. Courses continued there for nearly 15 years, until the College built its current site in 2003.