Brush up on 5 fascinating facts from Miami Dade College’s rich history

The New Tropic is continuing its #TBT series celebrating the history of Miami Dade College. As we noted last week, this trip through the school’s past and contributions to the community is all leading up to I AM MDC Day: Every year on September 6, the college commemorates its opening in 1960 and invites Miamians to make a financial donation to an institution that’s served millions of students across six decades. The funds raised by I AM MDC Day go toward upholding the school’s mission of keeping higher education affordable and accessible by funding tuition and supporting students in need.

Last week we spoke with Rene Ramos, the director of MDC’s archives department, about his experience with the college and its impact on his life and Miami-Dade at large. Now, we’re sharing five noteworthy factoids from MDC’s history to bring you up to speed on how the school has evolved through the years and continuously changed lives along the way.

We’ll let the facts speak for themselves…

History of Miami Dade College New Tropic Partnership

1. A sterling standard of community service

MDC has been an invaluable avenue for accessible higher education from the moment it opened its doors. When it was founded as Dade County Junior College in 1960, the college made itself available to any county resident who had graduated from high school. The so-called 

“Chicken Coop College” — called as such for the repurposed buildings that were renovated to serve as classrooms — admitted 1,428 students during its inaugural year. The student body included several Cuban refugees as well as seven black students, making Dade County Junior the first integrated junior college in Florida. The number of enrolled students swelled by the end of the decade, with 23,341 attendees in 1967. With its free tuition for Miami-Dade County residents and status as the fastest growing junior college in the U.S at the time, MDC set a high standard early on for similar institutions to aspire to.

2. A clique of cultural institutions 

After two decades of development, refinement, and accompanying campus expansions, MDC settled into its role as a major community player in the 1980s. 1984 proved especially pivotal with the establishment of the New World School of the Arts, a collaboration between the college, Miami-Dade County Public Schools and Florida International University that’s still championing creative education to this day. “Books by the Bay,” now known as the Miami Book Fair, also debuted that year and hosted 25,000 attendees across two days. Far from its origins as a regional cultural happening, the Miami Book Fair is now the largest literary event of its kind in the country and attracts hundreds of authors and publishers from around the world and half a million attendees. MDC’s exponential growth could also be seen in its increasing number of campuses: in 1985, it opened its fifth location at the First Baptist Church in Homestead with 350 students.

3. A community college landmark

MDC enjoys the distinction of being the first community college in the U.S. to have 100,000 students graduate. The milestone, which was passed in 1985, spoke to the school’s achievements and growing reputation as a top-tier center of higher learning. As the ‘80s drew to a close, MDC was recognized by the well-regarded University of Texas Community College Leadership Program as the number one community college in the country. Similar accolades followed in the ‘90s as the college innovated and offered courses over the internet, or as it was widely called back then, the World Wide Web.

4. New name, new millennium 

The Florida legislature formally changed the school’s name to Miami Dade College on May 24, 2003. The new moniker wasn’t the college’s only exciting development at the start of the century: 2003 also marked the year that Miami Dade College began offering four-year degrees. An array of new programs and initiatives were introduced during the aughts, including the establishment of the Honors College as well as the Emerging Technologies Center of the Americas.

5. Minding the past, tending to the future

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more evocative visual testament to MDC’s place within the community than the Freedom Tower. The Downtown Miami landmark — which previously housed the former local newspaper of record The Miami News before serving as a processing center for new arrivals from Cuba in the 1960s — was donated to the college in 2005 following several decades of disrepair. Even as MDC helps prepare its students for the future, the college’s stewardship of Freedom Tower speaks to its commitment toward preserving Miami-Dade’s past and local flavor.

More information on MDC’s rich history is available at the college’s website. You can learn more about I AM MDC Day and make a contribution to the college’s essential mission by clicking right here. Be sure to follow MDC on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to stay up-to-date with the school, its students, and how they’re making a difference in Miami-Dade.