By Karen Beckstrom, director, Columbia College of Missouri-Elgin

Columbia College was established in 1851 to meet a specific need and has been filling in the blanks ever since. When the college was founded, women were not permitted to attend the University of Missouri, which was an all-boys school at the time. The founders of Columbia College saw the need for young women who wanted to go to college and they established what was then known as Christian Female College. This in and of itself would be a terrific legacy, but in reality, it was just the beginning of a remarkable journey that continues to this day.

Today’s adult population may think that the availability of affordable college options has always been a part of the American fabric, but that is simply not the case. The explosion of colleges and universities didn’t really take off until the mid to late 1980s when an emphasis was placed on leveraging education to make a better living wage.

Elgin Director Karen Beckstrom

Columbia College’s founders were so brilliant in their foresight that they positioned the school to adapt to an ever-changing landscape, and adapt we did.

With the demand for college education growing, the school once again moved to fill a need. In 1969, Kirk Williams became the first male student to attend Christian College and for one year he was the only male student on campus. Rumor has it that he was quite popular among the young women there. The word spread that men could attend and by 1970, 54 men had arrived on campus and the name of the school was officially changed to Columbia College.

In 1973, long before other institutions extended their degree offerings off of their main campuses, Columbia College established an Extended Studies Division (now Columbia College Global Division) to make our degree programs available across the nation. Columbia College was also among the first colleges to establish teaching locations on U.S. military bases; today, there are nearly 35 locations nationwide supporting both military and civilian communities.

Columbia College has been a leader in meeting students where they are from the very beginning, and here in Elgin we take great pride in our diverse student body. With evening classes, online courses, and virtual education offerings, we meet our students where they are regardless of the challenges they face during their academic journey. From pandemic response to helping students see their potential and guiding them to success, Columbia College Elgin has been meeting students where they are since our location opened more than 20 years ago.

As students you should be proud of your school’s legacy, because any school is only as good as the students who attend and participate. Each of you have made us better and have added to the depth and fabric of Columbia College’s long and storied history. Remember, no matter your challenge in achieving your academic goals, we are here to meet you where you are to provide the support and encouragement you need to be successful.

Thank you for allowing us the privilege of serving you. Because of you, we are standing strong together. Good luck with your studies and please remember us little people when you are running the world!