Students attend classes at Pikes Peak Community College's first iteration, housed in a former Safeway building on Colorado Springs' west side.

In honor of Pikes Peak Community College’s 50th anniversary, Mayor John Suthers will proclaim Oct. 7-13 as a time to recognize the college’s many contributions to the community.

“Pikes Peak Community College is the largest, most diverse, public higher-education institution in the Pikes Peak region, serving nearly 20,000 students annually,” Suthers’ proclamation states.

“Hundreds of thousands of people have taken classes at PPCC since its founding as El Paso Community College in 1968,” the proclamation continues. It notes that the college offers quality college transfer, career, technical and lifelong-learning educational opportunities including associate degrees, certificate programs and concurrent enrollment options for high school students, and contributes more than $300 million to the local economy.

“From a modest college started in a former West Side Safeway building (nicknamed Safeway U), we’ve grown into the second largest college in our state system,” said Warren Epstein, the college’s executive director of marketing and communication.

In the days when it was known as Safeway U, the college operated out of rented buildings in Old Colorado City and offered three associate degrees.

According to the college’s website, www.ppcc.edu, about 800 students enrolled the first year. The first graduation was held in April 1970 at Bancroft Park; 17 associate degrees and 70 certificates were presented at the graduation ceremony.

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Early on, the college placed an emphasis on programs for military personnel. That emphasis spurred rapid enrollment growth.

In early 1973, the U.S. government declared 212 acres of land along the northern boundary of Fort Carson as surplus land. On Feb. 15, 1974, the government transferred the deed to the surplus acreage to the State Board for Community Colleges and Occupational Education for use by El Paso Community College.

The site became known as the Centennial campus. The first buildings were constructed in 1978, and the school was renamed Pikes Peak Community College.

Over the next several decades, the college added many occupational majors to serve the large number of veterans who were enrolling. As the region grew, the college expanded its educational services even more.

In 1986, the college gained a downtown presence with the opening of the Downtown Studio. The Rampart Range campus was built in the north end of the city in 1998, and the Falcon campus was added in 2008. The college also began operating educational centers at Fort Carson, Peterson Air Force Base and the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Education for service members still plays a major role at PPCC; 26 percent of its students are connected to the military.

Pikes Peak Community College today offers more than 150 degree and certificate programs and is continuing to innovate, advance and redefine what it means to be a community college.

“This fall, we offer our first bachelor’s degree,” Epstein said. “Only a handful of bachelor’s are available at community colleges statewide.”

The first cohort of students who will earn a bachelor’s degree in Emergency Services Administration are enrolled, and the college soon will be adding a second bachelor’s — a bachelor of science in nursing. The college also has launched a new associate degree in cybersecurity.

“The theme that has driven the college over the past half-century still drives us today: workforce needs,” Epstein said. “That’s why we’re planning to expand the nursing program as well as other allied health programs.”

The college also plans to expand the downtown campus, which supports arts programs.

“In looking to the coming decades, we are very focused on the independent contractor/entrepreneur economy. That’s why we helped create the Quad Innovation Partnership, to train students and graduates to tackle real-world problems in extraordinary ways,” Epstein said.

The partnership is a joint initiative between PPCC, Colorado College, UCCS and the U.S. Air Force Academy to students and graduates build careers and support their development as business leaders, innovators and valuable members of the community.

“We see the Quad as a model for not just how colleges and universities can play together, but how we can foster a new approach to meeting the ever-changing needs of our workforce,” Epstein said.

Colorado Springs City Council will read Suthers’ proclamation at its Oct. 9 meeting at 1 p.m. in City Hall.

The college is planning several celebratory events, including a Homecoming celebration for students, alumni and employees on Oct. 5 and a Golden Gala fundraiser on Oct. 27. Details can be found on the college’s website.