Northeastern Junior College

Northeastern Junior College in Sterling. Photo courtesy NJC>

The effort to make a name change to three rural junior colleges is down to two, after the House Education Committee agreed on April 29 to remove Northeastern Junior College from a bill that would have taken the "junior" out of its name.

Senate Bill 8 as introduced would have taken the word "junior" out of the names for Otero Junior College in La Junta, Trinidad State Junior College in Trinidad and Northeastern Junior College in Sterling. 

Those who favor the name change say the word "junior" has a stigma attached to it. Otero JC President Timothy Alvarez told the House Education Committee his students and community say "it's about time."

Trinidad President Rhonda Epper noted her college is Colorado's oldest two-year institution and in 2025 will celebrate its 100th year. The word "junior" is a reflection of its history, she told the House Education Committee on April 29. "As we look to modernize our college and grow, we've been listening to students and staff and community members who believe the word 'junior' is outdated and a hindrance to our success."

Epper said one student leader told her "there's nothing small nor junior about Trinidad State." Epper also noted that Trinidad started marketing itself as Trinidad State College, leaving out the "junior," years ago. 

But students, alumni and community leaders at Northeastern cried foul, claiming they had never been asked about making that change for the Sterling college. 

The Senate approved the bill, with Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, hinting that more community input would be sought before the bill headed to the House Education Committee. He also blamed Colorado Community College System Chancellor Joe Garcia for pushing the name change.

The Senate approved the bill on March 3 but in the meantime, the bill's House sponsors, Reps. Richard Holtorf, R-Akron, and Don Valdez, D-La Jara, asked NJC President Jay Lee to poll its community, students, faculty staff and alumni.

According to Holtorf, 75% of those surveyed nixed the name change.

"Nobody knew there was that strong a sentiment," Holtorf said Monday.

Garcia told the education committee on April 29 that removing the word "junior" will enhance marketing efforts, and that "junior" is considered confusing and even demeaning. Garcia noted his board approves the bill. He didn't once mention the controversy at Northeastern and no one from Northeastern testified on the bill.

The education committee approved an amendment offered by Holtorf that basically strips Northeastern out of the bill, allowing them to retain "junior" in their name.

On Monday, the bill won preliminary approval from the House and will head to a final vote on Tuesday. If approved, it would have to go back to the Senate for concurrence on the amendment.