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In August 1966, the Board of Freeholders approved the creation of Essex County College and in September 1968, more than a year after the Newark riots, the college opened its doors to 3,400 students at 31 Clinton Street, Newark, NJ.
In early 1970, after the college celebrated its first commencement, graduating 214 students, it was decided that the new main campus would be built in what is today called the University Heights district. The groundbreaking of the "Megastructure" (now called the A. Zachary Yamba Building) began in June 1972 with the grand opening occurring a little under four years later in April 1976. During this time, in June 1974, the College was officially given its accreditation by the Middles States Association of College and Schools' Commission on Higher Education. The main campus would see expansions in October 1985 (with the opening of the Gymnasium and Child Development Center), in October 1996 (with the opening of the Center for Technology), and in September 1999 (with the opening of the Clara E. Dasher Student Center).
In January 1979, the West Essex Extension Center, a former elementary school, opened in West Caldwell, NJ. In 1982 an additional eight acres was purchased and, in September 1985, the newly expanded and renovated Center was unveiled. It would take another four years before the New Jersey State Department of Higher Education would grant the Center full branch campus status, transforming it into the West Essex Campus.
The FOCUS Center (which opened in September 1974) and the Ironbound Center (which opened in September 1979) are two extension centers, located in Newark, which offer off-campus educational services.
After the 2010 retirement of long-serving president Dr. A. Zachary Yamba, the college went through two separate presidencies in less than a handful of years which led to Yamba being brought back as an interim president in the spring of 2016. In November of that year the college was placed on warning by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education for failing to comply with standards involving institutional resources and governance. That, along with a former athletic coach having been found to have stolen $150,000.00 of college funds, led to a decline in enrollment.
Dr. Anthony Munroe was hired by the college in May 2017 to succeed Yamba and help bring the institution back into compliance with the standards set by Middle States but internal issues, including the Board of Trustees rejecting several of the president's proposed appointees (including a Chief Financial Officer) led to the college being placed on probation. After a reshaping and reorganizing, Dr. Munroe and his administration were able to submit a monitoring report to Middle States on March 1, 2018, which led to a Small Team visit two weeks later where the Middle States representatives reported that the institution appeared to be in compliance with the standards for which it was placed on probation. That same month, the college laid off 20 full-time staff and eliminated 14 vacant positions in an effort to save money; like many community colleges, Essex County College has seen a significant (25% fewer compared to five years ago) decrease in enrollment. On July 2, 2018, in response to the college's actions and changes in its structure and governance, and based upon the recommendation from the Small Team's visit, Middle States reaffirmed the institution's accreditation.
May 1966 - Robert McCabe (1st)
January 1969 - Dr. Ellis White (2nd)
May 1971 - J. Harry Smith (3rd, and first college president of color in the State of New Jersey)
Essex County College offers A.A., A.S., and A.A.S. degree programs in more than 50 different majors. It also offers 26 academic certificate programs. Approximately 25,000 people enroll each year in the college's various degree and non-degree programs, including job training and enrichment programs. Day, evening, weekend, and online courses are offered throughout the fall, semester winter intercession, spring semester, two summer sessions. The college's academic offerings are split up into six distinct divisions and one separate department:
Division of Biology, Chemistry, and Physics
Division of Business
Division of Health Sciences
Division of Humanities and Bilingual Studies
Division of Mathematics, Engineering Technologies, and Computer Sciences
Division of Social Sciences
Department of Nursing
Essex County College's students represent over 50 different countries.
More Essex graduates transfer to Rutgers University-Newark, New Jersey Institute of Technology, and Bloomfield College than any other two-year college in the state.
Dozens of student organized and run clubs exist at the college, including the Short Films Club and the Future Teachers Club.
Over the last decade, over one dozen Essex graduates have received Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarships, allowing them to attend a four-year institution partially, or entirely, for free.
Essex County College's athletic teams, dubbed the Wolverines, are represented in the Garden State Athletic Conference (GSAC) and Region 19 of the National Junior College Athletic Association. Men and women are able to participate in basketball, cross country, soccer, and track & field (indoor and outdoor). Essex athletes have gone on to become All-Americans. The college has also produced more than two dozen athletes who have competed at the Summer Olympics, representing various countries around the world.
Dr. Clement Alexander Price - American historian who taught at the college in its first academic year before taking a position at Rutgers University-Newark where he was the founding director of the Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience, which now bears his name
^2007 Hall of Fame Inductee, Jane Grey Burgio, Nutley Hall of Fame. Accessed November 9, 2019. "Ms. Burgio was born in Nutley at 169 Highfield Lane. She was the granddaughter of Abram Blum, the first Mayor of Nutley under the Commission form of government adopted in 1912. She graduated from Nutley High School in 1940 and attended the Display Institute in New York City, the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts, Caldwell College, and Essex County College."
^Libman, Gary. "Novelist Describes Life of Harlem Renaissance", Albuquerque Journal, April 11, 1989. Accessed February 18, 2018. "Corbin's mother was a housewife. His father, who attended college, managed a supermarket. He has two brothers and attended Essex County College in Newark, NJ., before earning a scholarship to the University of Southern California's cinema-television school, where he stayed for two years before he ran out of money and left in 1977."
^Shawn Harvey, West Virginia State Yellow Jackets. Accessed December 28, 2018. "Shawn Harvey was born December 31, 1973 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Anthony Coleman and Brenda Harvey. He graduated from West Philadelphia High School 1991 and then enrolled in Essex County College before transferring to 'State' in 1992, at the request of Head Basketball Coach Robert Marshall."
^"Ryan Sworn In As Newest Member Of The General Assembly", Assembly Democrats, January 6, 2011. Accessed February 18, 2018. "Ryan, 41, is a graduate of Essex County College Police Academy and currently serves as an Undersheriff for the Essex County Sheriff's Office where he heads the Office of Emergency Management."
^"Faces in the Crowd", Sports Illustrated, May 24, 1971. Accessed February 18, 2018. "Aron Stewart, a sophomore at Essex County (N.J.) College, led the nation's junior college basketball players with 1,019 points and a 36.6 average."