By Rich Griset, The Chesterfield Observer
Half a century ago, John Tyler Community College opened its doors to 1,200 students at its lone Chester campus.
Today, the school has grown to become the fifth-largest community college in the state, educating tens of thousands of students annually from its two campuses. Instead of throwing a stand-alone event to celebrate the school’s birthday, John Tyler is incorporating its 50-year celebration into other events throughout the year, the largest of which is its 12th annual Fool for Art festival, which takes place this Saturday, April 22.
Like all of Virginia’s community colleges, John Tyler had its beginnings when the General Assembly passed legislation in 1964 that established the state’s system of two-year colleges.
On Jan. 27, 1965, eight localities, including Chesterfield, submitted a joint application to the newly created State Department of Technical Education asking for assistance to establish a technical college. Since John Tyler, our nation’s 10th president, was a native of the area the new college would serve, the college’s board of trustees decided to name the school in his honor.
In Virginia, community colleges are not allowed to purchase land; instead, land must be donated, and the Chester campus was established after Harold T. Goyne Sr. donated 100 acres for the school. Construction began in 1966, and John Tyler opened its doors for summer classes in 1967, becoming the first community college in the state to be built from the ground up (other colleges used existing buildings, at least initially). By 1972, Virginia’s community college system had grown to include 23 comprehensive community colleges across the state.
John Tyler graduated its first class in 1969, and as Midlothian continued to develop, the college began addressing needs in the community through an outreach office and annexes on the western side of the county. In 1988, the school established a presence at Featherstone Professional Center off Huguenot Road. The Featherstone site attained campus status from the Virginia Community College System in 1991. In 1994, the Louis Reynolds Marital Trust signed an agreement that offered 126 acres to the school for a Midlothian campus. The new campus opened its doors in 2000.
Today, John Tyler educates 14,000 for-credit students and 12,000 workforce development students annually (the latter includes students taught jointly with J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College), and serves a wide area that covers Amelia, Charles City, Colonial Heights, Hopewell, Petersburg, Dinwiddie, Surry and Sussex. Sixty percent of the school’s students come from Chesterfield.
“If you look at our service region, it’s very spread out,” says Holly Walker, a spokeswoman for the college. “It’s urban, suburban and rural.”
Advanced manufacturing is one of the most popular areas of study, along with business, IT-related programs, engineering, criminal justice and education. Walker touts the school’s connections with the local business community – especially advanced manufacturing – as a boon to students seeking jobs, and says about one-third of students are in transfer programs, aiming to complete their degrees at four-year institutions.
“The big thing that people benefit from is that it’s cost-effective. Our tuition is about a third of what [students] would pay at a public four-year college in Virginia,” Walker says. “There are a lot of opportunities for people who want to go out for that bachelor’s degree to come here, get a great education, then transfer.”