History of the Career College Sector

History of Career Colleges

Working Together for Continued Success

Imagine America has only been around for a small portion of the career college sector's history. But we plan to continue our involvement as long as students need affordable, efficient career training. As you consider our scholarships to trade schools, we encourage you to think about why career colleges have such a rich history in American education.

Before you continue reading, here are some reasons why career colleges have stood the test of time and are still relevant for today's students:

  • Efficient programs: Many can be completed in 12-18 months
  • Universal skills: Mechanical sciences, information technology, health care, business and many more
  • Typically less expensive: Four-year traditional degrees require greater financial investment
  • Scholarships and grants: Many are available for career and technical schools (like the ones we offer)
  • Career-focused: Career colleges have withstood the test of time because they concentrate on core skills in vital fields

Employers that offer hands-on jobs, such as welding, auto mechanics or medical assisting, value employees who are already knowledgeable because they've been trained. That's where quality career college training comes in!

Have you applied for your Imagine America Scholarship for career college students yet? Or are you a counselor or adviser who needs to enroll your school? Let's get started. Go the IAF portal to become a member and submit your information.

Understanding the Past

 Career colleges have a strong heritage. As the history of career and technical schools shows, they have proven to be vital to the higher education sector. It is simply amazing to think that what was established over 165 years ago is now a sector filled with thousands of career colleges and universities offering certificates and associate, bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in over 200 fields to more than 2 million students each year nationwide.

  History of Career Colleges

The Imagine America Foundation has chronicled the story of the career college sector and is pleased to share it with everyone through our career college history archives. Take a trip into the past to see the evolution of the sector by viewing the following pages:

  • Did you know there are nearly 50 career colleges and universities that are 100 years old? Browsing the history book will take you on a journey from the 1800s to the present. Compare today’s careers with those of the past, and see how much has changed and what has stayed the same.
  • A lot has happened in over 165 years of growth for career colleges. Learn about the major events of the sector from the Career College Timeline.
  • Learn about the people who have helped the career college sector grow and develop.

Do you have information on the career college sector you would like to share with others?

If you are a student eager to find scholarship money for career training, check out our Road Map to Student Success to learn how you can create the future you want. You shouldn't have to wait two to four years to qualify for a job. Become an Imagine America member, and see if you qualify for up to $1,000 in scholarships to one of our approximately 400 career college partners!

Brief History of Career Colleges

History of Career Colleges

Most historians identify Foster’s Commercial School of Boston, founded by Benjamin Franklin Foster in 1832, as the first established school in the United States to specialize in training for commerce. By the mid-1830s, 15 to 20 private career schools were teaching business-related subjects. The first major chains of schools were Bryant & Stratton, which had an estimated 50 schools under management by the mid-1860s, and the Draughons Schools, established in the late 1800s.


In the 1900s, several developments shaped the growth of career colleges and universities. The establishment of shorthand and laborsaving machines such as typewriters and adding machines made office work more efficient. Women were also starting to enter the workforce and embrace these new developments. The formation of several associations also impacted the growth and development of the career college sector.

By 1962, two major associations were involved in the sector: the Association for Independent Colleges and Schools (AICS), and the National Association of Trade and Technical Schools (NATTS). A final merger of these associations happened on Aug. 1, 1991. AICS and NATTS became the Career College Association (CCA), which in 2010 changed its name to the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU) to better reflect the institutions it represented.

In 2016, APSCU changed its name to Career Education Colleges and Universities (CECU), a voluntary membership organization of accredited, postsecondary schools, institutes, colleges and universities that provide career-specific educational programs. CECU has about 470 member campuses that educate and support millions of students for employment in over 200 occupational fields. CECU member institutions provide the full range of higher education programs, including masters and doctorate degrees, two- and four-year associate and baccalaureate degree programs, and short-term certificate and diploma programs. Some of the occupational fields for which CECU institutions provide programs include information technology, allied health, business administration, commercial art, radio and television broadcasting, and culinary and hospitality management.