Canal Zone Junior College / Canal Zone College History

Opened: 1933
Closed: 1999

The first yearbook of the Canal Zone Junior College was called the Conquistador. This yearbook was published in 1936 and reported the early history of the school which later became the Panama Canal Junior College. According to the yearbook,

“The history of the Canal Zone Junior College, situated on beautiful Roosevelt Avenue in Balboa, begins long before the opening of the College in September, 1933. For several years before its actual establishment, the Junior College was a subject of correspondence between various Congressmen, chiefly the Honorable E.E. Dennison, and the then Governor of the Panama Canal, Colonel Harry Burgess. A survey of the Canal Zone schools by the Teachers’ College of Columbia University resulted in a recommendation that a Junior College be established. The Superintendent of Schools, Mr. Ben M. Williams, and his staff made an exhaustive study of the requirements for the establishment of such an institution, and it was concluded not only that there was a need for a Junior College, but also that the number of prospective students and the facilities that might be provided would ensure its success as a college of standard grade and high reputation.”

The yearbook also reports the inaugural assembly of the Junior College was held on the patio of the Balboa High School on September 26, 1933. The upper floor of the former YWCA building, on Carr Street, Balboa, was set aside as a dormitory for the male students from the Atlantic side of the Isthmus. After one year of operation in available classrooms of Balboa High School, the College was moved to its new $300,000 building. The first structure was section B, or the science unit, of a proposed plant of four units. Section A contained the library, classrooms and an administration center. The other two sections housed a large auditorium (C) and vocational shops and gymnasium (D).

The first class had sixty-five students and six well-qualified teachers, five of whom were hired expressly to teach at the new College. The first graduation class was in June, 1935. In 1936 there were eleven faculty members and twenty-four graduates.

The College was accredited in April 1934, as a standard institution, by the American Association of Junior Colleges.

The first yearbook also reported on campus activities. The Student Association of the Canal Zone Junior College officially started December 29, 1935. Activity tickets which cost three dollars and fifty centers admitted students to school dances, banquets and entitled the holder to a yearbook. There were reciprocal privileges between the College and Balboa High School. Other organizations included Kappa Epsilon, a group to promote the Spanish language, Kappa Delta Sigma, the College Dramatic Society, the International Relations Club, the Natural History Society, the Engineers, and athletics for men and women.

In 1937 the College now had a Glee Club and the Tropical Collegian which was a mimeographed literary periodical. The first issue was published on March 5, 1937. A new organization, Pre-Medicos, was added for school year 1937-38. This group was for pre-med and pre-nurses at the college.

Flickers and Flashes, a weekly newspaper, began publication just prior to the second semester for school year 1938-1939. The school had its first orchestra, eleven pieces, and a string ensemble, five strings and piano, that same year. Sans Pareil, a French language organization was also started this school year. A copy of the school song can be found in the 1939 yearbook.

During the 1940-1941 school year, the College applied to the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools for formal accreditation. The application was accepted and in November 1941 an inspection team visited the college. After the visit, the College was notified that it had been accredited. The Propeller Club was established in 1941. The purpose of the organization was promoting the American Merchant Marine. This was the nineteenth student branch admitted to membership in the US Club which was established in 1927. Two other social organizations formed that year were Phi Beta Lora for women and Phi Beta Wolfa for men.

The 1942-1945 yearbooks focused on the changes due to wartime conditions. These changes included faculty and students leaving for the war, lower enrollment and reduced student activities. Only twelve students were in the sophomore class. Students who died during the war or served were listed in the yearbooks. The 1945 yearbook contains a letter from Eleanor Roosevelt and the President of Panama, Carmen E. de la Guardia. The school opened its chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, an honorary scholastic fraternity.

The first sorority formed at the school was Gamma Chi in the first semester of 1948-49. By 1950, the graduating class was forty-eight students. Sports for men included football, track, baseball, water polo and basketball. Women participated in volleyball, basketball and softball. For the first time, the dorms were highlighted in the annual. The weekly publication became The Spotlight.

In the 1953 yearbook students from the Armed Forces and the G.I. bill students were recognized. For the first time cheerleaders were listed in the sports section of the yearbook. The following year a pep club was also recognized.

The school’s enrollment continued to increase through the fifties and sixties and new five-day dorms were occupied. By 1962 a Pan American Club was added to the student organizations. The focus of the club was the history and culture of Panama. For school year 1963-64 the College had a record enrollment of 1000 students, full and part time. Students attended now had a brand-new air-conditioned campus.

The College was now located in the community of La Boca adjacent to Panama City. The new three-story concrete building was of modern construction and was completely air-conditioned.

Special courses were offered for the first time as well as an audio-visual program and the inter-communication system which replaced the weekly announcement sheets. Additionally, the first junior class was added to the College. For the next several years a junior class existed if there were students enrolled at that level.

During school year 1966-67 the College had its first full time counselors. The faculty had increased to thirty-two including three counselors and two librarians. That year there were over one hundred students in the sophomore class.

In the 1969 yearbook there are eleven part-time instructors listed. This is the first time that part-time faculty were included in the yearbook. Tennis and swimming for men and women had been added to the sports schedule.

The eighties were a decade of change at Panama Canal College. The changes, which were broad in scope, included the following: the operation and name of the college, personnel, curriculum, enrollment, policies, office automation, and renovations to the facilities. Not all the changes were viewed with optimism nor readily accepted. However, the College survived and met the challenges of the 1990’s.

With the implementation of the Carter-Torrijos Treaty, the official name of the school was changed from Canal Zone College to Panama Canal Junior College on October 1, 1979. Operation of the college was transferred from the former Canal Zone Government to the Department of Defense Dependent Schools.

Due to the attrition at the college in 1979-80 there was a complete change of administration and counseling. The new Dean, Dr. Harold Brown, had been an administrator in the Philippines, Japan, and Germany. With his experience and knowledge of the DOD schools, he facilitated the transition of the College to DoDDS. Curriculum changes were made to meet the diversified needs of full and part time students.

New policies provided Independent Study as an alternative way for students to earn credit outside the regularly scheduled classes. Term courses were also initiated with a flexible credit format. To meet the training needs of the Army Civilian Personnel Office many contract courses were offered.

The demand for English as a Second Language courses was so great that a new department was added that had six levels of instruction. Other added courses included a new major in General Studies, certification programs in Women’s Studies, Management of Business, Marketing, Bookkeeping, and Clerical Office Administration.

By expanding the curriculum to meet the needs of students, the enrollment increased at a rate of about 5% from 1981 to 1985. The highest enrollment was in the Spring of 1984 with an enrollment of 2,100 students. The reduction of course offerings in the Fall semester of 1985 resulted in a decline in enrollment. The tuition rates set in Washington, the Fiscal Division of DoDDS increased annually at about 6.5% from 1980 to 1985.

In the 1987 an initiative to provide a year of intensive English language training and orientation to American higher education to the recipients of Central American Peace Scholarships (CAPS) was begun. The program was in conjunction with Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. a result of a recommendation made by the 1984 Kissinger Report on Central America.

The concurrent enrollment Program was started in 1988 with Balboa High School. It provided opportunities for recommended high school students to enroll part-time in college credit courses while they were still attending high school. Eligible high school students could be selected as tuition-free students. The Spring 1990 semester had 60 concurrent enrollment students.

To meet the needs of expansion renovations were made to the facilities. A dormitory was refurbished to accommodate the 60 CAPS students. The other dormitory was renovated for English classrooms and became the English Center. New computer science laboratories were opened with state-of-the-art equipment. The science laboratories and classrooms were moved from the main building to the renovated Annex. The gymnasium was upgraded and included an air-conditioned fully equipped physical fitness/weight room and locker room improvements.

Sources: Yearbooks in the AOSHS archives

Schooling in the Panama Canal Zone 1904-1976. DoDDS Panama 1979-1989

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