Established in 1890 by Mary Blood and Ida M. Riley as a women's speech college, Columbia began training radio broadcasters, writers, and technicians in the 1930s and later expanded into television.
By the 1960s Columbia was well known but small and financially precarious. In 1963 Mirron “Mike” Alexandroff became president, envisioning Columbia as a school of arts and communications in a liberal arts context. Reaffirming its earlier emphasis on hands-on education by people working in the arts, Columbia adopted an experimental, antibureaucratic approach to learning. The college embraced open enrollment, holding classes throughout Chicago to connect learning with the city's communities. A sense of excitement pervaded the college, which grew to include an innovative and award-winning fiction -writing program and a highly regarded film - and video-making program.
Accredited in 1974, Columbia established a graduate division in 1981. Institutional growth diminished some of the earlier sense of excitement, as the college grew to over 9,000 students by the end of the century. In 1998, Columbia's part-time instructors, who taught over two-thirds of its classes, voted for union representation.
The college moved to 600 South Michigan Avenue in 1976 and by 2001 included 13 buildings in the South Loop. Tuition in 2001 remained among the lowest for Illinois private colleges.
Kundrat, Theodore V. “Columbia College in Retrospect.” A series in Columbia College Alumni News, 1986–1987.
Silverstein, Louis, ed. An Oral History of Columbia College. 3 vols. 2000.
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