Garfield Senior College


What began as a dream of a Lake Erie College history professor in 1937 evolved into Garfield Senior College 34 years later. For 15 years, Garfield Senior College operated as an independent division of Lake Erie College. During this time, 1,731 students received baccalaureate degrees.

Garfield Senior College alumni have been successful in nearly every imaginable field, including finance, business, education, the arts and more – one graduate is even serving as a college president today. The history of Garfield Senior College is an important part of the fabric of Lake Erie College and will be celebrated during Homecoming Alumni Weekend in October 2012.

Garfield Senior College history

In April 1971, Lake Erie College President Dr. Paul Weaver announced the formation of Garfield Senior College. Named in honor of President James A. Garfield’s son, James R. Garfield, who served as president of the Lake Erie College Board of Trustees from 1910 to 1950, Garfield Senior College was an outgrowth of the Division of Community Education, which had been operating on the Lake Erie campus since the 1950s.

"While there is an abundance of two-year colleges,” Dr. Weaver said, "there is a distinct shortage of senior colleges. As a result, the junior college graduate who decides to move ahead often finds himself involuntarily left out of the educational picture. We believe the formation of Garfield Senior College will help fill this major gap in higher education.”

Dr. Weaver said Garfield Senior College would be a non-residential college open to both women and men. Garfield Senior College and Lake Erie College would maintain separate identities, although Garfield Senior College would utilize Lake Erie College facilities and faculty; Lake Erie would remain the parent and accrediting residential institution. Garfield would offer third- and fourth-year courses and baccalaureate degrees to graduates of junior colleges; Dr. Paul Bowers would be its dean.

An editorial appearing in the "Painesville Telegraph” shortly after the opening of Garfield Senior College, reported, "The key features of Garfield Senior College are small, seminar-style classes, a contemporary curriculum, an emphasis on involvement and teaching excellence.”

At Garfield Senior College’s commencement in June 1973, Dr. John D Millett, chancellor emeritus of The Ohio Board of Regents, said, "The birth of Garfield Senior College is one of the major events in the world of higher education. Garfield Senior College offers a precedent to demonstrate how a private college can reduce tuition charges to students who have been enrolled in public higher education. Garfield Senior College represents a notable innovation in American higher education.”

Don Purtill, assistant dean of Garfield Senior College, listed the following six factors in addition to cost and convenience as attracting students:

  1. A senior college designed for graduates of a community college
  2. Small classes at various hours of the day and evening
  3. Full accreditation
  4. An emphasis upon personal development
  5. Courses taught by regular Lake Erie faculty or qualified part-time faculty
  6. Extensive degree programs including the following:
  • Bachelor Fine Arts with emphasis in art, music, theatre or a combination
  • Bachelor of Science with a concentration in chemistry, mathematics, social studies, psychology, philosophy, sociology, economics or education
  • Bachelor of Science with a concentration in business administration

The students themselves gave their own testimonials to Garfield Senior College. Some of their comments about what they liked best are as follows:

  • "The small classes and an informal atmosphere, linked with convenient location and relative low costs, have given me the opportunity to finish my education here.”
  • "The course structure at Garfield Senior College allows for great student participation. Instructors are interested in teaching.”
  • "The teachers are excellent and the faculty-student ratio is fantastic.”
  • "It is very stimulating.”
  • "The things I like best are the concern evidenced by the instructors in the development of the individual and the serious approach to the subject matter.”

Associate Professor Vince Kopy, who was a member of the Garfield Senior College faculty, said, "Our program is geared to maximize learning with instant application of theory through the cooperation of businessmen. I believe we have the most innovative and exciting courses in the area.”

The nucleus for Garfield Senior College actually began in 1937 as a dream of Helen L. Gray, history professor at Lake Erie College. Gray and several other Lake Erie faculty members began offering extension classes in 1938-39 that were open to members of the local community in what was then called the "Extension School.”

During World War II, the Extension School provided teachers and space for training replacements for men in service. After the war, the Extension School became the Division of Community Education, offering training for teachers and technical and management personnel.

The first male graduate of the Division of CommunityEducation was awarded the Bachelor of Arts degree in June 1959; previously, Division of Community Education graduates were included with the regular graduates of Lake Erie College. In 1968, separate commencement ceremonies were established for Division of Community Education graduates because Morley Memorial Music Building could no longer accommodate the increasing numbers of graduating students.

Garfield Senior College held its first commencement in June 1972. Separate Garfield Senior College and Lake Erie College commencements were held through 1985. As Lake Erie College began admitting men as residential students and officially became coeducational, there was no longer a need to operate Garfield Senior College as a separate division.

Although they held separate ceremonies to culminate their education, graduates of Garfield Senior College and Lake Erie College are unified in calling themselves Lake Erie College alumni. Lake Erie College celebrates and recognizes the unique achievements of all of these individuals.