TCC milestones at 50
From humble beginnings to foundational institution, a look back at Tulsa Community College's history.
When Tulsa Junior College offered its first classes in 1970, the response was larger than anticipated. Some students brought pillows and lawn chairs to class because the college didn’t initially order enough chairs.
Tulsa leaders created the College in response to community demand. They just didn’t know the demand was going to be bring-your-own-lawn-chair big.
“From its inception to its impact today, Tulsa Community College has met its students where they are, working to shape and develop them as they learn,” says Tulsa Community College President and CEO Leigh B. Goodson, Ph.D. “In our 50-year history, TCC has educated generations of Tulsans. And, in doing so, TCC has helped to define Tulsa itself.”
TCC, or Tulsa Junior College as it was known in the beginning, would grow from one campus with 2,800 students to a multi-campus college serving more than 24,000 students each year. In the first five years, enrollment grew to 6,169 for fall 1975, and the graduating class grew from 11 to 444.
“TJC saw rapid and immediate growth,” Goodson says. “The College was fulfilling a need for our region, and students responded to what was offered in numbers beyond what the founders’ thought were even possible.”
In 1974, the College purchased the Sinclair Oil Building and adjacent property to serve as a permanent location for the Metro Campus. To make that happen, the Oklahoma Legislature gave $2.5 million, but it wasn’t enough. The City of Tulsa and Tulsa Mayor Robert LaFortune came to the rescue with an additional $456,000. The entire six-floor structure was remodeled over the next two years.
The 1979 opening of the Northeast Campus had enough chairs, but stories circulated of students having to push cars out of muddy parking lots because there wasn’t enough money to pave the lots. In 1981, TCC acquired an 80-acre site on East 81st Street between South Mingo and Garnett roads for the Southeast Campus, which opened in 1984. Enrollment continued to increase with students reaching nearly 19,000 by 1989. A land gift from Stephen J. Jatras in 1990 would become the West Campus, which opened in 1996.
“Our growth has allowed us to reach so many students across a large footprint,” Goodson says. “TCC has served more than 433,775 individuals to date and had nearly 4 million course enrollments since the College started in 1970.”
For nearly five decades, TCC has had a significant positive impact on the business community, Goodson says. A recent economic impact report showed TCC and its students brought $919.9 million into the greater Tulsa-area economy, approximately equal to 1.9% of the total gross regional product.
“We are proud of the graduates we produce who make an immediate impact on the Tulsa community,” Goodson says. “We’re equally proud to be an economic engine for Tulsa.”
Advantage in options
TCC is a leader in delivering college courses to meet demand in the Tulsa community, often utilizing new concepts or methods in Oklahoma. In 1979, the College added distance learning, or telecourses, to supplement on-campus instructional programs. A decade later, Gayle Graham would be recognized as the 20,000th telecourse student.
“TCC acts as a disruptor by offering flexibility when universities did not or could not,” Goodson says. “Thousands of students have completed their degrees because we provide flexible options for their busy lives.”
In 1997, more than 1,600 students completed requirements for graduation. The College began offering online courses in 1998 and by 2001, TCC had more than 3,000 students enrolled in online courses, telecourses broadcast on local TV and interactive television courses. By 2015, TCC offered a total of 32 associate degrees and certificates that could be completed fully online and had more than 7,000 students enroll in TCC online and distance learning courses each semester.
“As online course options increased in the late ’90s, education could be packaged not just for working adults, but for working adults with families,” Goodson says. “With online courses, TCC historically sees the highest online traffic between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., after kids are in bed and a parent has time to do the coursework and study.”
Innovation continued as the College started initiatives that are now commonplace in the state. TCC’s Attend College Early (ACE) program was an early version of today’s dual credit/concurrent enrollment and has gained acceptance throughout Oklahoma. ACE, a free tuition program for up to 1,000 high school students, was about accessibility and introduced college to high school students.
“We made higher education affordable and accessible,” Goodson says. “It wasn’t just about the cost of tuition; it was being able to attend college and go to work. TCC made the possibility of a college degree and a better job easier for a larger number of people than the traditional university.”
TCC again transformed college accessibility with Tulsa Achieves. Created in 2007, TCC led the national discussion on access as it provided a path to higher education for thousands of Tulsa County high school graduates. TCC is Oklahoma’s largest provider of online instruction and enrolls the highest number of dual enrollment students of any institution in Oklahoma.
TCC continues to elevate the way it serves students and, as Oklahoma’s largest provider of transfer students, the College launched the Tulsa Transfer Project with regional partners Langston University, Northeastern State University, Oklahoma State University, the University of Oklahoma, Rogers State University and the University of Tulsa. This is a collaborative effort to improve the success of transfer students and the first initiative of its kind in Oklahoma. The Tulsa Transfer Project, sponsored locally by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, is working with the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education, a nationally recognized nonprofit organization that partners with higher education institutions to improve student outcomes.
“Over and over, TCC has been a leader as well as a partner with other higher education institutions and businesses and industries to produce students who are ready for the workforce with skills and abilities that translate immediately and directly,” Goodson says. “We’ve been producing quality graduates for 50 years now, and we will continue to do more and more. We’re proud of where we’ve been, and we are still excited for what’s to come.”
Filling the workplace employee gap
How TCC became the ‘MIT of the southwest’
Business and higher education traditionally have a symbiotic relationship. Colleges and universities produce graduates with the education and skills employers need to fill positions in the workforce.
From the beginning, TCC has focused on workforce development. As far back as its Tulsa Junior College roots, the College took on a major role in providing corporate training.
At that time, technology was rapidly changing the workplace, so TJC crafted classes and programs to enhance work skills to keep pace. American Airlines placed SABRE, a computer reservation system, in Tulsa because of an early agreement with TJC.
“American Airlines had folks they would fly in to be trained at TJC. It was a success,” says Pete Selden, TCC vice president of workforce development. “That concept became a model that was noticed worldwide, and it really put TJC on a global stage. Industry leaders acknowledged our work as a partner to develop skilled and knowledgeable employees, and that remains true today.”
The collaboration was so strong that a decade later, a publication from American Airlines’ SABRE system referred to TJC as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology of the southwest for computer education. A partnership followed with IBM that culminated in the Computer Integrated Manufacturing/Enterprise Center on the Northeast Campus. At one point, the College offered 130 different classes in computer sciences.
“From day one, workforce development was a foundational focus for us and remains an integral part of what TCC does today,” Selden says. “TCC is intentional in developing students to meet marketplace demands. We use a combination of workforce certificates and associate degrees to meet an individual’s short-term or long-term goals. We provide customized training, based on industry feedback, to help prepare a workforce for our local companies.”
In 1986, TCC established the International Language Center with instruction in 13 languages, including English as a Second Language and American Sign Language. With a workforce focus, the Language Center trained long-distance operators for AT&T, international reservation agents for Avis, architects designing international stores for Walmart, missionaries to Russia and medical personnel.
“In addition to working with local companies, we collaborate with other education institutions,” Selden says. “We have designed programs to address the skills that employers say are missing in the workforce. In some cases, such as manufacturing, we are able to package those credentials as the groundwork for a college degree. We also are working to get students started earlier in workforce-centered training so they can get on pathways to employment and a college degree.”
A recent study, commissioned by TCC, showed 90% of TCC’s graduates live and work in the greater Tulsa area. Currently, TCC offers 38 degree programs and 37 certificate programs designed for students to go directly into the workforce. Advisory committees made up of private sector and employer partners provide TCC with industry-specific knowledge as well as provide feedback on the skills our graduates need in the workplace. Approximately 320 individual companies are represented on the advisory committees.
“We know there is a growing skills gap in industry and business,” Selden says, “and we’re staying committed to our founding principle of providing the Tulsa-area with an educated and prepared workforce.”
President Alfred M. Philips
Founding president, 1969-1989
After a national search, the Tulsa Junior College Board of Regents asked Alfred M. Philips, Ph.D., who had been vice chancellor at Dallas County Community College since 1966, to become the founding president of Tulsa Junior College. Philips became known for his visionary leadership that established forward thinking in creating a junior college that would be open to all, crossing barriers of gender, cultural and academic diversity. His first hires were Dean VanTrease, executive vice president, and Robert Melott, vice president of computer services and data systems. These longtime close relationships have been described as part of the “magic formula” for the success of Tulsa Junior College.
Philips and his colleagues worked long, hard hours to accomplish things that many said couldn’t be done. They faced repeated opposition from local and state officials. An early demonstration of their servant leadership was when a leak (potentially from a fire sprinkler) on the third floor threatened to flood additional floors. The president and his vice presidents, still in their business suits, grabbed mops and buckets to take care of the problem.
Education for all
In 1977 TJC opened a center that offered a variety of academic support services and adaptive technology for students with disabilities. Student services expanded when the Resource Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing opened in 1982. The resource center provides sign language interpreters, tutors, speech-to-text services and assistive listening devices. Now named the Education Access Center, it is the first stop to qualify students for educational accommodations in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
President Dean VanTrease
President, 1989-2004; executive vice president, 1969-1989
Health sciences emphasis
With the opening of the Alfred M. Philips Health Sciences Center on the Metro Campus, TJC expanded opportunities to meet workforce needs for Nursing, Dental Hygiene Assistant and other Allied Health fields. As part of the new facility, the Dental Hygiene Clinic opened providing community members access to low-cost dental hygiene services and a hands-on learning lab for dental hygiene students. TCC also announced the Natalie O. Warren Chair of Nursing, its first endowed chair funded by the Saint Francis Hospital Auxiliary with a matching grant from the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.
Performing Arts Center for Education
The Performing Arts Center for Education (PACE) on the Southeast Campus allowed the College to expand its music, theater and arts academic programs with the addition of a 1,500-seat performance hall and adjoining classrooms. The PACE was named for President VanTrease in 2000, which followed a 2003 expansion phase adding stage production laboratories, sound recording and teaching studios. It became the home of TCC’s performing arts programs as well as the Oklahoma Sinfonia, now Signature Symphony, a professional orchestra-in-residence for the College.
Changing the name
TJC became known as Tulsa Community College in 1996 to reflect the College’s role in providing quality education for the community and its citizens. Throughout VanTrease’s role as president, he emphasized cooperative education in Tulsa with model educational partnership programs like Tulsa’s Aviation Education Alliance, Career Partners Inc., IndEx Inc., EMERGE, Tulsa Training Coalition and the Tulsa Summer Academies.
President Tom McKeon
2004-2014; started as a horticulture instructor in 1980
Under President McKeon’s leadership, TCC started several initiatives designed to increase access to college that would be adopted across the state and U.S. Through several pilot programs and partnerships, TCC led the state in delivering college classes to high school students. In fact, research from one of the pilots shaped the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education’s policy on concurrent enrollment. Studies show that completing college courses while still in high school increases the college graduation rate while helping to decrease student debt. To date, TCC is the largest provider in Oklahoma of dual credit for concurrently enrolled high school students.
Additionally, McKeon led the creation of the nationally recognized Tulsa Achieves program, which has served as a model for other communities such as Knoxville, Tennessee. Tulsa Achieves pays tuition and fees for eligible high school graduates to earn a degree without going into debt. Today, Tulsa Achieves has provided a path to college for nearly 20,000 students and more than 650,000 hours of volunteer community service.
Tulsa Fire Regional Training Center
McKeon oversaw the planning and construction of the Tulsa Fire Regional Training Center on the TCC Northeast Campus. Jointly funded and in collaboration with the City of Tulsa, it was developed from 20 years of work with the Tulsa Fire Department, as well as other municipal fire departments in the area. Today, the training center provides an enriched education environment for students in TCC’s Fire and Emergency Services program, one of the College’s original degree programs.
President Leigh Goodson
TCC’s participation in Pathways Project, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the American Association of Community Colleges, redesigned the way the College operates. TCC incorporated the Pathways framework and 19 essential practices into its five-year Strategic Plan. The Pathways Project’s goal is to increase the number of graduates and ultimately feed the economy with a ready workforce that meets the needs of local employers and business.
Overhauling the student enrollment and advising experience
Goodson oversaw the initiative to reduce the student-to-academic advisor ratio to 350-to-1 which led to improvements in fall-to-fall retention rates, especially for first-time underrepresented minority students — going from 54% to 63%. Because of this effort, TCC was named one of 10 finalists for the Bellwether Award in the Planning, Governance and Finance category for overhauling the student enrollment and advising experience and creating clearer paths for students to succeed in higher education.
Clearing the Pathway
TCC kicked off the public phase of Clearing the Pathway: The Campaign for Completion, the largest fundraising campaign in TCC’s history on Sept. 27, 2018. The Campaign raised $20 million in private funds to support student scholarships, academic advisors, Student Success Centers, science lab renovations and diversity and inclusion outreach. The multi-year campaign, at its core, is about graduating more students by removing financial, navigational and physical barriers.
Tulsa Community College through the years
Tulsa Junior College is established and Alfred M. Philips, Ph.D., is appointed as TJC’s founding president.
TJC opens to its first class of 2,796 students on three floors of leased space in the Sinclair Oil Building.
TJC’s first graduation awards degrees to 11 students on May 28, 1971. The TJC student newspaper publishes its first edition on Oct. 19, 1971.
TJC’s first nursing class Capping Ceremony is held.
Enrollment at TJC has more than doubled to 6,169 students.
In just five years, the graduating class grows to 444 students. To streamline student services, the College adds computer-assisted career counseling and instruction programs to provide students with help outside the classroom.
Fully committed to accessible higher education for all, the College opens what later becomes known as the Education Access Center.
The Northeast Campus opens. TJC adds telecourses to supplement on-campus instructional programs as enrollment exceeds 9,000.
TJC becomes the third largest institution of higher education in the state, behind only Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma.
Continuing its commitment to provide college access for all students, TJC develops what later becomes the Resource Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
The Southeast Campus opens. TJC’s total enrollment stands at an all-time high of 15,756.
After 20 years, TJC’s founding president, Alfred M. Philips retires. Dean P. VanTrease, Ph.D., is named president.
The College announces its first endowed chair, the Natalie O. Warren Chair of Nursing, funded by the Saint Francis Auxiliary with a matching grant from the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. The Alfred M. Philips Health Sciences Center is dedicated at Metro Campus.
TJC graduate Carol Johnson is the College’s first Academic All-American Scholar, a recognition awarded by Phi Theta Kappa and USA Today.
Tulsa Junior College changes its name to Tulsa Community College. The College unveils the new Performing Arts Center for Education and the TCC West Campus opens.
Responding to area needs for qualified veterinarian technicians, TCC creates the Veterinary Technology program in 1999.
Oklahoma Sinfonia becomes the professional orchestra-in-residence for the College. The name is changed to Signature Symphony at TCC.
President Dean P. VanTrease announces his retirement and TCC selects Thomas K. McKeon, Ph.D. to replace him. TCC announces Attend College Early free tuition program for up to 1,000 high school students who concurrently enroll at TCC.
The Health Sciences and Biotechnology Learning Center at Southeast Campus opens and is one of the first completed Vision 2025 projects. TCC announces the Tulsa Achieves program to provide up to 40 hours of college credit for Tulsa County graduating seniors at no cost. TCC opens the Educational Outreach Center in east Tulsa.
The TCC Air Traffic Control Program opens at the R.L. Jones Jr. Riverside Airport. The Center for Creativity at Metro Campus opens.
Leaders from TCC, Tulsa Tech, Oklahoma State University-Tulsa, the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa, Oral Roberts University and the University of Tulsa form the Tulsa Alliance for Engineering, which later becomes the Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance. TCC launches its first dual credit classes for concurrently enrolled high school students.
The TCC Owasso Community Campus opens in the newly completed Tulsa Tech Owasso Campus.
President Thomas K. McKeon announces his retirement and TCC names Leigh B. Goodson, Ph.D., as his replacement. The Nate Waters Physical Therapy Clinic opens on the Metro Campus.
The Tulsa Fire Safety Training Center opens at the Northeast Campus. The College is selected as one of 30 community colleges nationwide to join Pathways, an initiative funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and led by the
American Association of Community Colleges.
The Riverside Community Campus and Aviation Center opens at R.L. Jones Jr. Riverside Airport.
Corrections Education has record enrollments with TCC’s participation in a Pell Grant pilot program by the U.S. Department of Education to support incarcerated individuals as part of TCC’s Second Chance program.
TCC, along with regional partners Langston University, Northeastern State University, Oklahoma State University, Rogers State University, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Tulsa join forces for the Tulsa Transfer Project to help improve success of transferring from TCC to any of these four-year institutions without losing credit hours.
Serving all students
TCC’s ASL Education program sets standard, creates lasting bonds
Lisa Riley entered Tulsa Community College right after high school, but she didn’t need a campus tour or directions to her classes.
“My mom started at TCC at the beginning in 1970 as a school nurse,” Riley says. “She worked there from before I was born until her retirement more than 30 years later.”
During her mother’s career, Bobbie Woodward worked her way up to be the director of the Allied Health Program and the Dean of Instruction of TCC’s West Campus. In addition, she was instrumental in the development of TCC’s American Sign Language Education program, which gives TCC students an opportunity to acquire an understanding of the deaf community as part of human diversity, and acquire American Sign Language skills.
Woodward, knowing her daughter’s passion for people, guided Riley to the ASL Education program. Riley immediately fell in love.
“I loved being a part of the deaf community,” Riley says. “Going to TCC was a better transition for me, and I felt like the ASL program made me grow up tremendously. It made me be an adult. It taught me a lot of life lessons and opened me up to learning things I had never thought about before.”
She says TCC provided her with the best possible education, noting the program is held in high esteem throughout the ASL community.
“It is just one of the best programs in the nation,” Riley says. “When we would go to conferences, people looked at us like we were royalty because our degrees were from TCC.”
Inclusion and meeting the needs of all students has been a focus of TCC since its inception. The ASL Education courses are designed with appreciation of deaf culture and the language. And along with the associate degrees in American Sign Language, which produce graduates able to serve the deaf community, TCC has two resource centers designed to assist individuals with disabilities in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing is committed to communication access for all by providing sign language interpreters, tutors, speech-to-text services and assistive listening devices. The Education Access Center manages academic support resources for students with other types of disabilities. Both centers serve about 350 students each semester.
After graduating from TCC, Riley went to Oklahoma State University, earning a degree in speech pathology. Now back in Tulsa after a stint in Houston, Riley currently owns Pinot’s Palette, where guests create artwork with friends. She says that despite a career shift, her passion for the ASL program and connection to the faculty and professors remain strong. When her mother died several years ago, she says she was touched when so many of her former professors came to pay their respects.
“My instructors and my mentors all showed up at my mother’s funeral even though it had been years since I had graduated,” she says. “It spoke to how much heart they have and how much they invest and follow up with their students.”
Riley says TCC gave her more than just an education. It created a lifelong connection with a community outside her own, and friends and mentors for life.
“What more could you ask for?” Riley says. “TCC gave me a foundation for life.”
Champions of education
From the beginning, TJC leaders understood the power of education to change lives and were champions of education for the community. TJC hired faculty from the Tulsa area. Oral Roberts, a public supporter of TJC, allowed full-time ORU faculty to teach as adjunct faculty at TJC. Championing education by TJC leaders would also extend to TJC helping other higher education institutions get started in Tulsa such as the Oklahoma College of Osteopathic Medicine, University of Oklahoma School of Medicine and Langston with whatever was needed at the time, including sharing facilities.
Achievements in the classroom included five TCC faculty recognized as the Oklahoma Professor of the Year by the Council on the Advancement and Support of Education and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Kay Miller, Assistant Professor of English, 1994
Carla Thompson, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Mathematics, 1995
Sally Bright, Assistant Professor of English, 1998
Phoebe Baker, Assistant Professor of Psychology, 2004
Mary Phillips, Associate Professor of Biology, 2013
Seven TCC students have been awarded the largest private scholarship for community college transfer students in the country, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship.
2005: Linda Siegmann
2007: Jolie Olsen
2007: Stephanie Makaula
2008: Rose Lynch
2014: James (Jim) Presley
2014: Michelle Harris
2016: Dallas Elleman
TCC is part of a national initiative, the Pathways Project, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and led by American Association of Community Colleges, to raise graduation rates across the country. TCC was one of the 30 community colleges in the country selected to join the project in 2015.
Editor’s note: Special thanks to Tulsa Community College for this section’s content development.