In the early part of the 20th century, Californians started to recognize the value of higher education and the important role public two-year colleges serve in helping more people achieve their goals of obtaining a college degree. Kern County is home to some of California’s oldest community colleges. When Taft Junior College, as it was called until 1954, was established in 1922, there were only 15 other community colleges in the state, including Bakersfield College, which opened in 1913.
Taft College was initially part of Taft Union High School and provided the opportunity for students to complete their first two years of college close to home. When the inaugural term started on Sep. 5, 1922, the Cougars’ very first class consisted of only 10 students, nine of whom were recent graduates of Taft High School. Enrollees included Thelma Compton, Ethel Cresap, Eloise Dugas, Eunice Engelke, Ruth Henry, Vivian Hirst, Melvin Johnson, Blanche Love, Frances Rogers and Vale Smith.
Two years later, the Sep. 19, 1924, Bakersfield Californian reported that enrollment was the highest in its history and as such precipitated the addition of several new courses to accommodate demand. While today’s students can build their own schedules with the days and times that work best for them, the college’s schedule back then was set up much like high school, as it was divided into five periods. The classes were varied and covered many general education subjects.
Oct. 1, 1927, ushered in the first of many Saturdays dedicated to Taft College football. No one knew what the program’s future held when the first team went into its season after only two weeks of practice. The day before the season started, The Californian proclaimed the Cougars have “developed what appears to be a real football team.” This tradition lasted for 66 years, resulted in national championships in 1982 and 1984, and afforded many athletes the opportunity to pursue a college education. Budget cuts in 1994 led to the demise of the entire athletic program, and although many sports would eventually resume, football did not.
Fall 1956 marked a milestone in the college’s history when it opened the term in its new building on Emmons Park Drive. A long way from the first student population of just 10, approximately 250 full-time and another 250 part-time students were expected to enroll that year. Additionally, more than 130 course offerings taught by a faculty of 30 represented a significant step in Taft College’s progress. The opening of the new residence hall in 1965 made Taft one of the few community colleges with dormitories. Over the years, the college would continue to expand with new buildings and greater enrollment.
Taft College started small but the impact on the community it serves is immeasurable. In commemorating its 50th anniversary, The Californian stated on Aug. 9, 1971, that Taft College was “well-known for its high academic standards and for the dedication of its staff to assisting students in getting started right in college.” As its 100-year anniversary approaches, it can be said that Taft College continues that tradition. ￼