HFCC: A Rich History

Students who walk the grounds of Henry Ford Community College are following in the footsteps of Henry Ford, a man who saw the place, though never the school. The main campus lies on 75 acres that used to comprise the deer park of Henry Ford’s Fair Lane Estate. If one takes a short walk on the path behind the campus buildings, one can still view and visit the home of the school’s namesake. Ford’s legacy to the college does not stop with his acres, however. His footprints can be seen throughout its rich history.

The college came into being because of a request from parents of students at Fordson High School for more advanced classes. Grades 13 and 14 were added to the high school curriculum. In September 1938 the college officially opened in the basement of Fordson. Kenneth MacLeod, the principal of Fordson High, was the first director of the college. It was then known as Fordson Junior College.

Due to decreasing enrollment, the school became a casualty of World War II and closed in 1943at the end of the spring term. By the time the college reopened in 1946, the consolidation of the Fordson and Dearborn school districts into the District of the City of Dearborn had occurred, and the college was renamed Dearborn Junior College.

Eventually crowded conditions at Fordson forced a move, and the college relocated to Miller Elementary School. There were 804 students by the spring semester of 1950. During this growth into a full-fledged institution, the Henry Ford Trade School, which had been operating out of the Highland Park Plant, closed on September 2, 1952. The Trade School had served as a way to connect real world experience with education in a classroom setting. With the closing, all of the money and equipment from the trade school were given to the college. The final name for the school, Henry Ford Community College, was then adopted. The influx of the new equipment called for an expansion, and plans for the construction of the McCarroll Science Building and the Searle Technical Building were approved in 1954. The Miller Elementary School building was added onto as well, and classes were held as early as the fall term of 1955.

By 1956 enrollment had jumped to 5,600. Much of this increase was due to cooperative programs and trade/management training classes, and it was not long before the college had outgrown its new facilities once again.

In December of 1956 the president of Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford II, announced a gift of 210 acres of Ford land, including the Henry Ford Estate, and $6.5 million to the University of Michigan for the establishment of a Dearborn Center of the University. When inquiries were made to Ford Motor Company on behalf of HFCC and its need to expand, the college was not left out. In 1957 a gift of land on the Fair Lane Estate for development and expansion of HFCC was accepted. It would be placed on Evergreen Road, just north of the University of Michigan site.

A legacy of the Henry Ford trade school was the Related Trade Instruction Division and a consistent apprentice program in one form or another. In 1957 HFCC had 14 apprentice programs in this division. That number had grown to 19 by 1961, and to 40 by 1969. In 1973 the college offered its first associate degree in Science in Related Trades.

The Industrial Technology Division was a degree program from the beginning. Four of the 11 degree programs were in place as early as 1956: Automotive, Drafting, Electronics, and Metallurgy. Architectural Construction and Computer Science were in place by 1969. Hospitality Studies and Aerospace Technology were offered starting in 1973. Numerous programs have followed in order to keep HFCC on the cutting edge and as a destination catering to a wide variety of students’ needs.

HFCC’s continued commitment to real-world experience stems from a rich legacy. It is ironic considering Henry Ford’s educational philosophy of “hands-on” or “learn by doing.” That philosophy has been central to the history of Henry Ford Community College, and most certainly will be a huge part of its future.