Lee College was established in 1934, and when registration was completed for that first semester, 177 students had enrolled in the inaugural session of Lee Junior College of Goose Creek, Texas. The Board of Trustees of the Goose Creek Independent School District had agreed as early as 1931 that a junior college should be established to provide educational opportunity to students who could not otherwise afford it.
The first graduation was on May 24, 1935, with four women receiving diplomas: Juanita Barrington (Mrs. David Holm), Byrtis Avey (Mrs. Elmer Brinkley), La Del Payne (Mrs. Barney Hillard) and Hudnall Spence (Mrs. Robert Southwick). A 33 percent increase in the fall of 1935 boosted enrollment to 236.
The founders of the college were interested in providing a strong academic curriculum and a comprehensive technical/vocational curriculum. In 1936, the vocational program was initiated. Later, it became known as the Robert E. Lee Institute, Vocational Division of Lee Junior College. No college credit was given for work in the institute until 1941, and it did not become an integral part of the college until 1945, following a two-year period when no technical/vocational courses were offered.
By the mid-1940s, the administration and faculty of the college had become increasingly aware that the college needed its own governing board. In 1945, Walter Rundell, one of the original faculty members, became Dean of Lee College. Dean Rundell became the guiding force behind major developments for the two decades which followed. In 1948, the name was changed to Lee College. In the same year, Lee College gained accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The association urged Lee College to develop a campus facility separate from the high school.
A successful bond election in 1949 led to the completion of the first two buildings, the administration building and the gymnasium. The college moved to the new campus in 1951. Following the move to a separate campus, the growth of the college exceeded the expectations of the leaders, and plans for additional buildings had to be accelerated. A Liberal Arts Building, now Social Sciences, was added in 1958. By 1961, the campus had doubled in size. The library was completed and the gymnasium expanded in 1962. Moler Hall, Technical Vocational Building One, and Bonner Hall followed.
Under the leadership of Dean Rundell, Lee College successfully separated from the local public school district in 1965. On August 18, 1965, Lee College’s first Board of Regents, appointed by the public school board, assumed governance of the college.
A significant event in the history of Lee College occurred in 1966, when the college, under the leadership of Dean Rundell and George Beto, in cooperation with the Texas Department of Corrections, began a program of courses in the state’s prison system. This program has grown from 182 students that first year to a current enrollment which exceeds 1000 students.
In 1966, Dr. Richard Strahan became the first full-time president of Lee College. Since the separation from the local public school district, the college has had eight presidents: Dr. Strahan, 1966-71; Dr. Raymond Cleveland, 1971-73; Dr. Jim Sturgeon, 1973-76; Dr. Robert Cloud, 1976- 86; Dr. Vivian B. Blevins, 1986-1991; Dr. Jackson N. Sasser, 1992-2001, Dr. Martha M. Ellis, 2002-2008; Dr. Michael Murphy, 2008-2012; and Dr. Dennis Brown, 2012-present.
In 1969, Lee College, in cooperation with two Liberty County school districts, began offering courses at Liberty and Dayton. Another milestone in the history of Lee College was the offering of community education courses in 1972. These community-oriented, short-term courses have experienced a dramatic growth in popularity and are further evidence of the flexibility of the community college concept. The College also established a program for senior adults in 1972.
In 1986, Lee College began two new programs to serve not only Lee College’s district constituents, but also interested citizens outside the college’s service area. The San Jacinto Mall site was the result of cooperation between the mall and the College.
Coordination with local groups led to the formation of the Hispanic Educational Access Committee and the Black Educational Access Committee in the fall of 1986. The work of these committees has received favorable national recognition and has served to encourage educational access to these underrepresented groups.
The Lee College Foundation, established in 1968 to provide scholarships to deserving Lee College students, today has assets of more than $3.5 million and provides more than 275 scholarships each year.
In order to provide funds and volunteers to support educational programs, the Friends of Lee College was founded in late fall of 1986. This group of community volunteers, under the leadership of John B. Tucker, has raised more than $2 million to support College programs and has had a major impact on facilities and programs.
A focus on economic development resulted in the Small Business Development Center being opened in 1987. In response to needs of local industries, Lee College began to institute new industrial programs and to revise existing ones.
Obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing became possible through an agreement with the University of Texas School of Nursing at Galveston in 1987 for registered nurses in the area.
A successful bond election in 1988 enabled the college to initiate a construction program which featured a new science building, a lecture hall, and major renovations to several campus facilities.
The 711 West Texas property, acquired in 1990, was renovated to house a performing and fine arts complex in addition to an allied health suite named the McNulty-Haddick Complex in honor of Alma Haddick and her husband Luther.
In February 2000, local voters passed a $20 million bond election to build a new advanced technology center/library, a completely renovated gymnasium and newly constructed sports/wellness complex. Other renovations and additional parking were also included.
Today over 9,000 Lee College students are enrolled in academic, technical education, and non-credit community education programs each semester. Basic education is available for those seeking to improve skills in reading, writing, mathematics, and language in addition to a regionally acclaimed honors curriculum.