by Katherine Scott Sturdevant
PPCC History Professor

Pikes Peak Community College developed in a context of American history. It was born of an exciting movement in the country that began in the Progressive Era of the 1880s-1920s. What people then most often called “junior colleges” would concentrate on undergraduate teaching, offering students workforce training or foundations for more advanced degree programs. Community colleges would be affordable, practical, and adaptable to society’s needs. They would expand the availability of higher education to a majority of the population. In the Great Depression, community colleges boomed. They emphasized career training for any possible employment. Community colleges would be one of the best investments made in America’s future.
 
After World War II—and with G.I. Bill support—a national network of public community colleges developed. By the early 1960s, Baby Boomers added to the demand. Community colleges grew faster than any other aspect of higher education. In Colorado, a state committee, in 1961, proposed four new “junior” colleges. They included Colorado Springs as a location because of anticipated growth, due largely to its military presence. By 1965, “Cragmor” (the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs) opened. Planners anticipated that the future community college would prepare students for the new university. By 1968, El Paso County Community College (later dropping “county” from its name) opened.
 
The creation of EPCC, in 1967-9, was an adventurous project.  Four people began the work together under President Robert O. Hatton. As his executive assistant Carol Van Lew recalls, “I was considering another offer to work for the president of a bank, but I was really excited about being involved in the development of a new college! Working with the first four was really exciting—to be in on the beginning of such a big endeavor!” 
 
EPCC had a nickname—“Safeway U”—because one of its buildings was a former Safeway store at Robinson Street and 25th. That campus grew quickly to eight buildings. EPCC also “repurposed” other buildings around town for various functions. The dedication of the Administrative Offices (at 5 W. Las Vegas St.) was Wednesday, Nov. 20, 1968. The whole Colorado Springs community seemed involved in EPCC. Hundreds of people began their careers working or career training as students there. Future Colorado Springs leaders Bill Hybl and John Suthers were among first instructors. There were 976 students that year.

When the college administration proposed that EPCC have a mascot, school colors, and sports teams, many students took the ideas lightly. They were preoccupied with their classes and goals.  Therefore, they chose the aardvark (first in the dictionary), and black and blue (the colors they thought they would “earn” in any sports fields). Nevertheless, athletic teams, especially basketball in the 1970s, competed regionally for about a decade until they died in a budget cut. Aarnie Aardvark, as drawn and dressed in many forms, has remained the lovable mascot.

In the 1970s-1980s, high-tech and medical industries and returning Vietnam veterans directed another community college boom, toward a vocational emphasis. EPCC’s Nursing Program began in fall 1970, received accreditation by early 1972, and operated at capacity with a wait list. That year, EPCC became a Servicemen's Opportunity College. Vocational programs accounted for 70 percent of EPCC’s enrollment. EPCC negotiated for Ft. Carson surplus land (that the college had been leasing), which Congress approved. Ft. Carson sold the land to EPCC for $1, to support access for military students and their families. The architect of the new campus was Clifford Nakata, a Japanese American who had suffered “relocation” with his family during World War II. He served in the Korean War and became a noted architect for military bases. The new campus, dedicated on August 18, 1976, received the name Centennial because of the U.S. Bicentennial and Colorado’s Centennial year. The college also proposed a new name, and became Pikes Peak Community College (PPCC) on March 21, 1978.

Growth in the 1980s-1990s began a PPCC pattern of adding and expanding its two other continuing campuses. In 1986, the Downtown Studio Campus opened at 19 North Tejon. Its location inspired a natural affinity for the arts and humanities. It moved in 1993 to the former St. Mary’s High School, first leased and then acquired in 2002. Also in 1986, PPCC began to use Rampart High School evenings and weekends as a north campus, until it finally acquired land in the northern reaches of town. There it completed Rampart Range Campus in 1998. The community college developed regular curriculum practices to maintain ease of academic transfer and, in the 1990s-2000s, scholarships for students who transfer.
 
Adding to the vocational (career and technical) programs, at the end of 1986, PPCC announced its new Pikes Peak Regional Law Enforcement Academy, created partly to fulfill a need expressed by El Paso County Sheriff Bernard Barry. Barry was one of PPCC’s first graduates (1968-70), then its director of Public Safety until 1983 when he became sheriff. Such community relationships have abounded for PPCC. Its senior citizen programs of the 1990s led the senior-serving community and created the still popular PILLAR Institute for Lifelong Learning. The disastrous Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires of 2012-2013 occasioned much community involvement, especially to help students’ families. In the arts, PPCC’s theatre, music, and dance programs, as well as its art gallery, have entertained and inspired Colorado Springs for generations while championing diversity. In 2016, PPCC received the largest single monetary donation in its history, $1 million, from the Marie Walsh Sharpe Foundation, to develop a Creative Commons for its art students. A program called PPCC Cares organized regular food insecurity programs, pantries, and mobile markets for students and the community in Colorado Springs. 
 
Continuing to address constituency needs, PPCC Math and English faculty pursued developmental and college-prep curricula in many forms across many years. The college developed a wide range of accessibility and student support programs, as well as childcare centers at its major campuses. PPCC began to televise courses in 1990 and shifted to online offerings in a decade. Off-campus sites came and went to meet demand at remote and military locations. In 2008, the college brought concurrent enrollment to Rampart Range Campus by hosting The Classical Academy on its acreage, as well as facilitating concurrent high school students in many facilities and programs.
 
Over the years, faculty and staff increased efforts to offer cultural diversity events and curriculum while the college sought to improve diversity practices. International and global programs were also sporadic, from French class field trips to France, to a Danish student exchange program. In the later 1980s, diversity and equity demands and needs increased. In 1989, Marijane Paulsen became the first woman president of PPCC. After she retired, Joseph A. Garcia became PPCC’s first president of color in 2001. PPCC’s Student Life staff and student officers worked with faculty to fill voids with cultural programming. In 2015, PPCC formed a Diversity Team and began online diversity training. PPCC started a Global and Diversity Studies Program that changed curriculum and reintroduced Study Abroad. In 2016, PPCC hired its first executive director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. In 2018, PPCC received the 2018 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine and began anew to address underrepresented minorities. 
 
Still changing with the times, in 2019 PPCC ventured into Cybersecurity as a major high-tech program. As if to come full circle, in 2018, PPCC challenged its role as an undergraduate “feeder” school by successfully proposing its first two bachelor’s degrees. These also hearken back to its early vocational and medical roots: aBachelor of Applied Science in Emergency Services Administration and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. 
 
With over 18,500 enrollments in academic year 2018-19, PPCC had come a long way. Pikes Peak Community College’s first fifty years of history make clear the goals ascribed to community colleges in their earliest days. Community colleges would be affordable, practical, and adaptable to society’s needs. They would expand the availability of higher education to a majority of the population. Community colleges would be one of the best investments made in America’s future.