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Upper division college

The entrance sign at Florida Atlantic University
One of the first upper division colleges

An upper division college is a type of educational institution that traces its roots to educational ideas put forward in the late 19th and early 20th century. They were developed primarily in the United States during the 1960s in response to the growing number of community college students seeking to continue their education. They differ from a regular college or university in that they do not provide the first two years of undergraduate instruction and require applicants to already have completed two years of study at another institution.[1]


  • History 1
  • Decline 2
  • Colleges 3
  • References 4


In the late 19th and early 20th century, educational leaders such as William R. Harper and David Starr Jordan sought to separate the preparatory portion of college studies from "real" university work undertaken in the third and fourth years of study. Jordan, then president of Stanford University, proposed splitting the institution into two parts in 1907 to reach this goal, however changes the California secondary school system halted this proposal.[2]

David Starr Jordan
David Starr Jordan, one of the early pioneers of upper division colleges

Upper division colleges were first established as mainstream institutions in the 1950s in the United States as a means to respond to the need for educated professionals to assist in the Civil War.[2]

The first upper division college was the College of the Pacific in Stockton, California, which operated as an upper-division college between 1935 and 1951, before becoming the University of the Pacific in 1961.[2] This was done as part of a plan to reduce costs and increase enrollment by subletting college facilities to a high school which assumed public junior college status and funding.[2] However, disagreements between the College of the Pacific and the affiliated junior college, as well as accreditation issues resulting from the arrangement, led to the abandonment of the experiment in 1951.

The first college founded as an upper division college was University of Michigan–Flint, which was founded in 1956 as Flint College, however it converted to four year status in 1965 as a result of changes in the development of the region.[2]

Another notable early upper division college was Florida Atlantic University, which opened in 1964 and served third and fourth year undergraduate students, as well as graduate students. Later, in 1984, Florida Atlantic expanded to include first and second year undergraduates and ceased to be an upper division college.[4]

At the time they were created, upper division colleges were seen as a way to better manage community resources and provide opportunities for students.[5] It was thought that separating the upper division from the lower division of coursework would improve the relationship between undergraduate and graduate programs.[6] Additionally, some believed that by creating 2+2 programs between community colleges and upper division colleges, students could continue their education without the state needing to expand existing community colleges into full four year colleges.[7] Some commentators at the time saw the widespread development of upper division schools, in the same way community colleges had expanded in the prior decades.[8]


By the 1980s and 1990s, many states began to move away from the upper-division model. Despite concerns of crowding out of community colleges, it was felt that offering only the upper-level courses resulted in a poor public image and prevented the establishment of a full university setting.[9] Many of the students seeking to transfer from a community college desired a full college experience, including electives and extra-curricular activities. The inability to reach a large critical mass prevented the upper division colleges from competing effectively with four year colleges.[6] Some upper-division colleges such as the City University of New York's Richmond College merged with community colleges, while others such as Florida Atlantic and SUNY Institute of Technology opened their doors to freshman and sophomore undergraduates.[10][11] As of 2009 very few upper-division colleges remain in the United States, with almost all merging with community colleges or converting to four year status.


Name Started upper division Ended upper division Result
Athens State University 1975 Current upper division college
College of the Pacific 1935 1951 Expanded to four years
Concordia Senior College 1957 1977 Closed
Florida International University 1972 1981 Expanded to four years
Garfield Senior College 1971 1985 Merged with Lake Erie College
Governors State University 1971 2014 GSU enrolled its first freshman class in August 2014
John F. Kennedy University 1965 Current upper division college
Metropolitan State University 1973 1994 Expanded to four years
Penn State Harrisburg 1966 2004 Expanded to four years
Richmond College 1965 1976 Merged with community college
SUNY Institute of Technology 1966 2003 Expanded to four years
Texas A&M International University 1969 1995 Expanded to four years
Texas A&M University–Central Texas 2009 Recently established upper division college
Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi 1973 1994 Expanded to four years
Texas A&M University–San Antonio 2009 Recently established upper division college
Texas A&M University–Texarkana 1971 2008 Expanded to four years
University of Baltimore 1975 2005 Expanded to four years
University of Hawaii–West Oahu 1976 2007 Expanded to four years
University of Houston–Clear Lake 1971 2011 Ended upper-division in 2011 by statute; admissions for freshmen and sophomores to begin for fall 2014
University of Houston–Victoria 1973 2009 Expanded to four years
University of Illinois at Springfield 1969 2001 Expanded to four years
University of Michigan–Dearborn 1959 1971 Expanded to four years
University of Michigan–Flint 1956 1965 Expanded to four years
University of North Florida 1972 1984 Expanded to four years
University of Texas at Brownsville 1973 1998 Expanded to four years
University of Texas at Dallas 1969 1990 Expanded to four years
University of Texas at Tyler 1971 1998 Expanded to four years
University of Texas of the Permian Basin 1973 1991 Expanded to four years
University of West Florida 1967 1983 Expanded to four years


  1. ^ "Types of Colleges". College Board. 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-17. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Altman, Robert A. (1969-06-24). "A Study of the Establishment of Upper Division Colleges in the United States" (PDF). U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Retrieved 2009-07-17. 
  3. ^ Weaver Jr., Warren (1957-03-13). "Vast Expansion Set By State University". New York Times. p. 1. Retrieved 2009-07-17. 
  4. ^ "History of Florida Atlantic University".  
  5. ^ Erickson, Clifford G. (May 1970). "The Two-Year College". The Journal of Higher Education (Ohio State University Press) 41 (5): 409–412.  
  6. ^ a b Altman, Robert A. (March 1970). "The Upper Division College: Blueprint or Blind Alley?". The Journal of Higher Education (Ohio State University Press) 41 (3): 204–212.  
  7. ^ Higbee, Marvin (March 1973). "Upper Division Colleges: An End To Transfer Hurdles". Community and Junior College Journal (ProQuest). Retrieved 2009-07-17. 
  8. ^ Dunham, E. Alden (June 1968). "What is the Junior College All About?". PMLA ( 
  9. ^ "Report to regents says two-plus-two adds up". Boca Raton News. 1979-09-25. Retrieved 2009-07-17. 
  10. ^ "College of Staten Island".  
  11. ^ "SUNY IT History".  
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