Buoyed by its growing international stature following World War I, the nation approached the 1920s with confidence and bravado. In Cleveland, that spirit built on the widely acclaimed record of the populist Tom Johnson, who served four terms as mayor in the first decade of the century.
One of Johnson's successors as mayor, Newton D. Baker, who also served as Secretary of War under President Woodrow Wilson, had a plan to start a college for adult students. The enrollment base he foresaw was the population of workers who crowded daily into the city's downtown offices. His vision combined the Jeffersonian ideal of an educated populace and a pragmatic interest in providing education as a way of inspiring stability among people who might otherwise become "rebellious."
Newton D. Baker,
guiding spirit of Cleveland College.
In 1925, Cleveland College opened its doors in downtown Cleveland, directed by Western Reserve University in cooperation with the Case School of Applied Science. It was modeled on the recommendations of a 1924 Cleveland Foundation report about education in the region. WRU and Case made their laboratories available in the evenings for use by Cleveland College students, and allowed the College to employ their regular faculty as teachers. Neither promised to provide funds for the new venture, however, though in fact WRU did so during the 1930s.
The College was an instant success, enrolling thousands of adult students. They reveled in a learning environment distinctly different from that of a traditional college campus, one that accepted them on their own terms.
But enrollment patterns were was fickle, and the stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing depression cut student numbers significantly, reducing the College nearly to the point of closing by the mid-1930s. Baker, a WRU trustee, stepped in again. He raised funds to revive the institution, and the College entered the 1940s in good shape. The period immediately after World War II was one of immense enrollment increases, and the College became by far the largest division of WRU and a major contributor to the city's economic and cultural life.
The boom tapered off by the early 1950s, however, and in 1953 the University moved the College to the campus in University Circle, a step mourned by the College's alumni and students since it removed their special downtown location. By the 1960s, with the founding of Cuyahoga Community College and Cleveland State University and the expansion of other part-time and adult offerings in the area, Cleveland College's days were numbered.
In 1972, Western Reserve College was formed to incorporate the three former undergraduate colleges of Western Reserve University, Adelbert, Flora Stone Mather, and Cleveland Colleges. Thus ended Cleveland 's first experiment with large-scale access to higher education.