City Colleges of Chicago first opened its doors on September 11, 1911 as Crane Junior College. Nicknamed "the people's college," it was established under the Chicago Board of Education as a way to provide high quality, affordable education accessible to all in Chicago. There were just 30 students in the first class.
By 1929, Crane Junior College, with 4,000 students, was the largest junior college in the country. But, the college was forced to close in 1933 during the Great Depression. There was an immediate public outcry, led by students, faculty, members of Chicago's growing labor movement, and most notably, attorney Clarence Darrow. The college reopened less than a year later as Herzl Junior College. Two new sites were added: Wright Junior College on the Northwest Side, and Wilson Junior College on the South Side.
During World War II, the colleges were taken over by the military for use as training facilities. After the war, soldiers returning to school on the GI Bill filled City Colleges to capacity.
In the 1950s, Truman College opened as an evening college at Amundsen High School. Fenger College and Southeast College also opened consolidating to create Olive-Harvey College two decades later.
Expansion continued in the 1950s, with the opening of Bogan Junior College on the Southwest Side (later renamed Daley College) and Loop College Downtown (later renamed Harold Washington College). In 1968, students closed down several City College campuses amid civil rights issues. To recognize the key civil rights leaders, Herzl College was renamed Malcolm X College and Wilson College became Kennedy-King College.
WYCC TV began televised instruction in the 1980s through the Center for Distance Learning and Olive-Harvey College's South Chicago Learning Center opened.
Satellite sites continued to grow as well. Humboldt Park Vocational Education Center and Aruturo Velasquez West Side Technical Institute opened in the 1990s under Wright and Daley Colleges respectively and Dawson Technical Institute became part of Kennedy-King College.
In 2007, a brand new Kennedy-King College opened at 63rd and Halsted Street which houses WYCC TV, Washburne Culinary Institute, and WKKC Radio.
As City Colleges approached its 100th anniversary, Chancellor Hyman and Chairman Martin Cabrera, Jr. launched the Reinvention initiative in 2010. The centerpiece of the Reinvention effort is to ensure student success, drive greater degree attainment, job placement and career advancement and become the economic engine for the city of Chicago. The initiative is a long-term, ongoing effort designed to ensure CCC continues to benefit Chicago into its second century.