Keeping Them Home
By opening the college, the local school district sought to provide a means for more of their graduates to attend college. C. L. Littel, Centralia Public School Superintendent cited expense, distance, smaller classes, and that "students are now graduating at a very immature age and parents want to keep them at home as long as possible," as reasons to have a junior college ("Junior College Splendid Thing, Littel Thinks," 6). Prior to Centralia College opening, the nearest state college lay nearly a hundred miles to the north, in Seattle. The college's coursework prepared students to enter a four-year college and all of the students in the early years continued on to the University of Washington.
Dean Frederick E. Bolton of the University of Washington School of Education helped C. L. Littel, Centralia Public Schools Superintendent, and the Centralia School Board establish the school. The University of Washington remained affiliated with the college until 1947.
Challenges and Changes
The college has faced some challenges in its history. During the Depression the local bank holding the college's funds closed. Margaret Corbet, administrator and faculty member from 1925 until 1949, kept the college's doors open through loans from local business owners. Faculty members also helped by drawing a minimum of pay to reduce expenses.
World War II brought new challenges. So many young men enlisted in the military after high school that enrollment dropped sharply, threatening the college's viability. After the war the influx of students, driven partly by the G.I. Bill, strained the college facilities in the high school building.
In 1944 Centralia residents passed a bond for a new college building. Kemp Hall opened in 1950 on the new campus near downtown Centralia.
In addition to associate's degrees in preparation for transferring to four-year colleges, the college now also offers vocational training, worker retraining, the Running Start Program, through which high school students earn college credit, and a preschool program.
Today Centralia College's campus occupies 29 acres. It serves residents in Lewis County and southern Thurston County. In 1983 the college extended its reach by opening a satellite center at the East County center in Morton High School. That program also outgrew its facilities and moved to its own building, Centralia College East, near Morton High School in 1997.