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Cowley College is a community college in Arkansas City, Kansas. It also operates locations in nearby Wellington, Winfield, Mulvane, and downtown Wichita. In addition to an online presence the college offers on-site courses at nine area high schools. Cowley College is accredited by the NCA's Higher Learning Commission.
Cowley College held its first classes on Sept. 11, 1922. At this point, it was known as the Arkansas City Junior College (ACJC), and, like most junior colleges of the time, operated under the directorship of the local school district. Classes were held on the top floor of the Arkansas City High School, but were soon relocated to the basement, earning it the nickname "Basement University." In 1936, a combination auditorium-gymnasium was constructed, and in 1952, ACJC held its first classes in a dedicated college building.
During the mid-1960s, ACJC began a process of name changes in an attempt to keep current with state legislation designed to spur growth of junior colleges and vocational schools in Kansas. After no less than two revisions, in 1965, it was given the name Cowley County Community College and Vocational-Technical School, which was commonly abbreviated CCCC.
In 1967, the citizens of Cowley County elected a six-member board of trustees for CCCC, and on July 1, it assumed control of college operations. The new board appointed Dr. Paul Johnson as the first president of the college. Johnson had been the dean of the college under the school board's direction. The county continues to elect members to the board of trustees in four-year terms.
In March 1968, Johnson died. He was succeeded on an interim basis by William S. Scott until the end of June. On July 1, 1968, Dr. Gwendel A. "Gwen" Nelson was appointed president of the college by the Board of Trustees. Immediately, Nelson began a far-reaching program of expansion and upgrades. When he arrived at the college, it owned no property (the land on which the buildings stood was rented from the school district), and its program offerings were limited. During his tenure, which lasted until 1987, Nelson would be instrumental in land negotiations with the school board, resulting in the college's ownership of all of its main campus and the adjacent old high school. His leadership resulted in great expansion of academic programs, including upgrading the vocational school into a state-of-the-art facility, and he would oversee the construction of six new buildings, including the college's first dormitories.
November 2017 Sumner County, KS passed a half cent sales tax increase to fund a second campus of Cowley College to be built in Wellington, KS. Sumner County Campus of Cowley College will open for classes Fall 2018. The Short Family of Oxford, KS donated the property for the campus to be built on the South side of Hwy 160.
The college's main campus is in Arkansas City, Kansas. It also operates locations in nearby Winfield, Mulvane, and downtown Wichita. In addition to its online presence the college offers on-site courses at nine area high schools. Cowley College's Ireland Hall, was designed by architect Charles Sumner Sedgwick and constructed in 1890 as the Arkansas City High School. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as Old Arkansas City High School and considered one of the oldest, standing buildings in the city of Arkansas.
On July 1, 2015 Dr. Dennis Rittle became the 5th president of Cowley College.
Cowley College offers over 70 academic programs, which culminate with one of five certificates: Associate of Arts, Associate of Science, Associate of Applied Science, Associate of General Studies, and Vocational Certificate. Programs range from Liberal Arts to Business Technology to Vocational Training. The average class size for the 2014-2015 school year was 15. For the 2014-2015 academic year the unduplicated headcount was 4,997 students.
Cowley College's area vocational technical school was the first vocational school in Kansas to operate in association with a junior college.
Each year in October, a female Cowley sophomore is elected by the student body to be crowned as Queen Alalah. This is in conjunction with Arkansas City's fall festival, called Arkalalah.
Cowley College's Mascot is the Tiger. The college is a member of the National Junior College Athletic Association, and is home to a variety of athletic programs. Men's sports include: baseball, basketball, cross country, track & field, tennis, and wrestling (Beginning in the fall of 2017). Women's sports include: softball, basketball, cross country, track & field, volleyball, tennis, spirit squad, and dance line. The Cowley baseball team won two consecutive NJCAA World Series Championships in 1997 and 1998 and third place in 2017. The men's and women's cross country teams captured NJCAA DI National Championships in 2010. They are the only program in NJCAA history to sweep all the post season awards. Both teams won the conference, region, national and half marathon championship for men and women. The volleyball team won the NJCAA DII National Championship in 2011 and 2013.
Cowley is one of only a few Junior Colleges in the country with its own Sports Television Network. The Cowley Sports Network, launched on August 30, 2011 in a partnership with local production company Legleiter Video Productions and NJCAATV provides live coverage of baseball, men's and women's basketball, soccer, softball, volleyball, and wrestling nationally online and on local television in the Arkansas City area. The network reaches 100,000 viewers annually online and on TV.