Mid-Plains Community College (MPCC) was established as a result of Nebraska legislation enacted in 1973 and 1975. Three existing, separately founded institutions were merged to form MPCC:
- McCook Junior College (1926), the state's oldest two-year college
- North Platte Junior College (1965)
- Mid-Plains Vocational Technical School (1967)
Throughout their separate yet common histories and continuing through the present, their enduring mission has been preparing students for success by providing quality education opportunities for lifelong learning.
Today, MPCC serves its constituents across the 18-county region via a network of main campuses in North Platte and McCook and extended campuses in Broken Bow, Valentine, Ogallala, and Imperial. In addition, MPCC reaches students via its thriving on-line campus, the College's newest "location." All together, nearly 16,000 credit and non-credit students are enrolled annually.
In response to the accelerating demand for health care workers throughout the 18-county service area over the past 20 years, MPCC has significantly expanded its health programs. Partnerships with area hospitals, clinics, health-care providers, and long-term care facilities have been crucial to that expansion. There is a need to produce even more healthcare workers, as well as a need for additional health-related programs, but the College is out of teaching space on its North Platte campuses. In fact, some student housing is being used as classroom and lab space as a stopgap measure.
McCook Community College's True Hall, built in 1937, has been home to its competitive athletic program for more than 70 years. The student athletes who practice and play there have established a tradition of winning despite the building's deficiencies, including a court that is four feet too short to meet current collegiate standards, several safety issues, and an antiquated heating system. As a result of the building's minimal size, the practice schedules for MCC's six athletic programs are a constant challenge.
McCook Community College, founded in 1926 as McCook Junior College, was the first two-year institution in Nebraska. The college was organized as part of the McCook Public School system. The Superintendent of the McCook Public Schools, J.A. True, served as the college president, and there were eight faculty members. The position of the Dean of the College was created at that time for a liaison office between the College and the Superintendent's Office. Registration was held on September 6, 1926, with classes meeting on the second floor of the YMCA building. The first graduating class, in 1928, consisted of 25 students.
During the early years of the junior college movement in Nebraska, it was found that the State of Nebraska had not provided the necessary permissive legislation for the establishment of such colleges. McCook Junior College kept its doors open during this time of legal question, and during these years, both the State Department of Education and the University of Nebraska gave full accreditation to the college. In 1931, the Nebraska Junior College Bill incorporated junior colleges into the state education system.
In September 1935, McCook Junior College moved from the YMCA building to Cecil McMillen Memorial Hall. The present athletic field was completed in time for the fall football campaign in 1935. Its original name was Kelley Bowl, after Mr. John G. Kelley, but it was later changed to Weiland Field in honor of Frank M. Weiland. In September 1939, McCook Junior College opened another new facility, an auditorium-gymnasium-classroom complex, later named True Hall after J.A. True.
During World War II, McCook Junior College met the demands of the period by allowing students to meet the two-year graduation requirement by attending one full year and two summer sessions. The speed-up program was designed to serve the needs of the young men facing induction into the armed forces.
Brooks Residence Hall, named after R.G. Brooks, was originally completed in the spring of 1960. In the spring of 1990, Brooks Residence was doubled in size with the addition of a new wing that increased the housing capacity
to 140 students. The student center, known as the Wigwam, was opened in the fall of 1966. Tipton Hall, named in honor of Gladys Tipton, was opened in 1969 and provided music and maintenance facilities.
The von Riesen Library named after Ralph von Riesen, and Barnett Hall, named in honor of the Barnett family, were opened in the spring of 1972. The Wrightstone Fine Arts Building, named after Pearl Wrightstone, was opened for classes in the spring of 1976. Walsh-Brady Hall, named in honor of Mary Walsh Brady and her uncle, Patrick Walsh, was opened for classes in the fall of 1987.
In 1967, McCook Public School Board District No. 17 approved independent administration for McCook Junior College and appointed A.W. Kuper as president. In the
spring of 1971, McCook Junior College was separated from the McCook Public Schools and became a political subdivision, thus acquiring its own school board and the authority to tax.
North Platte's college history began in the 1950's with an attempt to establish a University of Nebraska branch campus. That idea, encouraged by the University at the time, dead-ended when a legal opinion stated the University was not authorized to establish branch campuses.
Harold Kay, an attorney and member of the North Platte Board of Education, offered a motion that was approved by the Board in December 1960 to begin a study of the steps necessary to organize a junior college district. The proposal went to voters on Nov. 14, 1961 and gained approval by a 2-1 margin, but voters twice turned down bond issues for a new building. Construction of a new Post Office and Federal Building in North Platte in 1964 opened up a new opportunity. On July 3 of that year, the federal government transferred title to the former Post Office/Federal Building at Fifth and Jeffers to the Junior College District. North Platte Junior College was now more than just a name.
An open house was held on Sunday, August 29, 1965 to show off the remodeled building and classes began the following Tuesday. North Platte had a junior college, supported entirely by taxpayers in School District 1 and governed by the North Platte Board of Education, which was also the board for the Junior College District. Otto Oakes, Superintendent of North Platte Schools, was the college President and William Ptacek, who had come to North Platte as Assistant Superintendent of schools in 1963, was named Dean of the college.
At the same time the Junior College was getting started, North Platte leaders were pushing for a trade school also called a vocational-technical school. A Legislative interim study in 1964 said that North Platte should be the first priority for location of a second such school.
The North Platte Development Corporation and the Chamber of Commerce spearheaded a campaign to locate a school in North Platte. The interim study recommendation went to the 1965 Legislature, which wrestled with several proposals for expanding vocational-technical education.
Senators approved a bill, which would provide for the establishment of trade schools on an area-wide basis through local initiatives, and another bill providing for some state aid for such schools.
Using rented buildings the old Carnegie Library on North Jeffers (now the home of the Children's Museum) and a Cohagen warehouse on East FrontMid-Plains Vocational-Technical School opened for classes.
Victor Halligan, a longtime North Platte attorney, donated land on the north side of Interstate 80 east of Highway 83. Wendell Wood hatched a plan for creating a Mid-Plains Foundation to raise funds for initial construction on short-term notes backed by a lease-purchase agreement with the college. The first building on the new Mid-Plains Voc-Tech campus was dedicated May 16, 1971.
In 1972, it was announced that the late Janet McDonald had left a major portion of her estate to the district for the construction of an academic college building and named after her McDonald and Belton families. The Board already possessed 100 acres of land on West State Farm Road south of the city and it was decided to locate the new campus on that site. First use of the partially completed McDonald-Belton building was in December 1974 and was formally dedicated on February 23, 1975.
In 1971, the Legislature began development on a plan to merge the vocational-technical schools and junior colleges. In July 1973, the Legislature approved LB 759 the legislation that connected every county in the state to one of six community college areas. The legislation also caused the formation of the Nebraska Community College Association, the state association of community colleges, but not a statewide governing body.
At that time, McCook Junior College was renamed McCook Community College and also merged North Platte Junior College with the Mid-Plains Vocational Technical College. The legislative action also brought McCook Community College and newly formed Mid-Plains Community College together to become the Mid-Plains Technical Community College Area. The passage of LB 344 in 1975 returned the community colleges to local control and provided for a service area mill levy. With the adoption of this new legislation, the word technical was dropped and today the two college, three campus institution is known as Mid-Plains Community College.
During the fall of 1999, Mid-Plains Community College Board of Governors voted to sell the old Post Office building in North Platte. The building had housed the MPCC Area Administration Offices since the completion of the McDonald-Belton campus. Those administrators housed in the downtown offices were relocated to the campuses.
In a vision of growth and expansion, the institution implemented a systematic plan to create a series of outreach sites. In 2000, the college established extended campuses in Broken Bow and Ogallala. The Valentine Extended Campus was created in June 2002. In 2003, the Imperial Extended Campus became MPCC's fourth outreach location. Each extended campus site is staffed with qualified administrators who are trained in all aspects of helping students achieve post-secondary educational opportunities in their local communities . All four extended campuses offer a localized Associate of Arts degree program as well as academic transfer, technical, community service and business and industry training in their respective communities.
In the 30-plus years of legislative-driven connection of the McCook and two North Platte campuses, decisions regarding how the institution identified itself had never formally been adopted. On November 13, 2002, the MPCC Board of Governors voted to formally identify McCook Community College and North Platte Community College as Divisions of Mid-Plains Community College. In the summer of 2004, North Platte Community College began identifying their Voc-Tech Campus as the North Campus. At the same time, the McDonald-Belton Campus was re-named the South Campus.
On September 11, 2003, three major construction projects were dedicated. In cooperation with the McCook College Foundation and the Hormel Family Foundation, McCook Community College celebrated the completion of a remodel and addition to McMillen Hall in a formal ribbon cutting. Later in the day,
North Platte Community College dedicated a new 144-bed residence hall complex and the completion to a remodeled entrance to the McDonald-Belton building.
Collaboration has become the key to the future. Today, the three campuses work together through integrated student services and business systems, an Area-wide academic/vocational division structure and collective marketing and enrollment management efforts.
Mid-Plains Community College is fast becoming the post-secondary educational leader in west-central Nebraska by helping its residents complete baccalaureate and graduate degrees without leaving their communities. With offices in North Platte and McCook, Bellevue University and Chadron State College have established partnerships with MPCC to allow a seamless transition from the two-year Associate's rank into their respective upper level educational degree opportunities.
Historically, the institution has been dedicated to meeting the educational needs of its Area residents. Mid-Plains Community College is pledged to continue to follow its mission of providing educational opportunities for lifelong student learning to those living in the West-central and Southwest portion of Nebraska.
*This story includes excerpts from several stories written by Keith Blackledge in a North Platte Telegraph supplement, Millennium - A North Platte Album.