History of Career Colleges

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Career colleges have a heritage that is strong. As the history of career and technical schools shows, they have proven to be vital to the higher education sector. It is simply amazing to think that what was established over 165 years ago is now a sector filled with thousands of career colleges and universities offering certificates and Associate, Bachelor's, Master's and Doctoral degrees in over 200 fields to more than 2 million students each year nationwide.

The Imagine America Foundation has chronicled the story of the career college sector and is pleased to share it with everyone through our career college history archives. Take a trip into the past and see the evolution of the sector by viewing the following pages:

  • Did you know there are nearly 50 career colleges and universities that are 100 years old? Browsing the Photo Gallery of Career Colleges will take you on a journey from the 1800s to present time. Compare today’s careers with those of the past and see how much has changed and what has stayed the same.
  • A lot has happened in over 165 years of growth for career colleges. Learn about the major events of the sector from the Career College Timeline.
  • Numerous people have been involved with the development of the career college sector. Find out who they are by viewing Sector Officials.

Do you have information on the career college sector that you would like to share with others? Send us your information at Submit Career College Information

Brief History of Career Colleges

In Service to AmericaMost historians identify Foster’s Commercial School of Boston, founded by Benjamin Franklin Foster in 1832, to be the first established school in the United States to specialize in training for commerce. By the mid-1830s, 15 to 20 private career schools were teaching business-related subjects. Established in 1841, Duff’s Mercantile College (now called Everest Institute) located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is recognized as the oldest private career school in continual operation in the Unites States. The first major chains of schools were Bryant & Stratton, which had an estimated 50 schools under their management by the mid-1860s, and the Draughons Schools established in the late 1800s.

In the 1900s several developments shaped the growth of career colleges and universities. The establishment of shorthand and laborsaving machines such as typewriters and adding machines made office work more efficient. Women were also starting to enter the workforce and embraced these new developments. The formation of several associations also impacted the growth and development of the career college sector.

By 1962, there were 2 major associations involved in the sector: the Association for Independent Colleges and Schools (AICS) and the National Association of Trade and Technical Schools (NATTS). A final merger of these associations happened on August 1, 1991. AICS and NATTS became the Career College Association (CCA), which in 2010 changed its name to the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities in order to better reflect the institutions that they represent.

In Service to America is available electronically.