The success and growth of the two-year college in Texas was one of the state's most significant developments in education. The junior-college movement in Texas began in the 1890s. Decatur Baptist College (established 1891 or 1892; now Dallas Baptist University) has been credited with being not just the first junior college in Texas, but arguably the first in the nation as well. These two-year schools were usually church-sponsored and offered courses similar to those in the first two years of four-year colleges and universities. The first publicly supported junior college in Texas was established in Wichita Falls in 1922, and subsequently the junior-college movement grew most rapidly in the public sector. Usually the public junior-college district was based on the boundaries of an existing independent school district, and the junior college was established as an extension of the high school. Ordinarily, it shared the physical facilities of that school, normally after the end of the high school's daily schedule. Though state recognition and authorization for funding did not occur until 1929, seventeen public junior colleges were established between 1922 and 1928 as auxiliaries of the public schools; they were under the administration of these local school districts' boards of trustees. In 1929 the state legislature validated these colleges and provided a process whereby additional junior colleges might be established. This legislation gave specific taxing powers to the local school districts for the junior colleges. Many taxpayers saw the new junior-college tax as nothing more than a surcharge on current school district taxes. In 1941 the legislature granted direct state aid to the junior colleges in the amount of fifty dollars per full-time student. Also, the Texas Education Agency became the supervisory agency for junior colleges. As junior colleges were seen at this time as an extension of secondary education, this administrative arrangement seemed most appropriate. The Texas Education Agency continued as the supervisory agency for junior colleges until 1965, when junior colleges were placed under control of the Coordinating Board, Texas College and University System, now known as the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. This move solidified the position of junior colleges as institutions of higher education. However, not included in the 1965 authorization were supervision over programs under approval authority of the State Board of Vocational Education, and construction financed by local property taxes.
The curriculum in junior colleges grew and changed over the years. Initially, academic courses transferable to four-year colleges and universities were the main focus of their curricula. Soon, vocational and agricultural education courses were added. As time passed, continuing-education courses were also added to programs; these courses were primarily designed for adults and taught specific skills such as cooking, typing, and automobile repair. Courses that granted professional credentials eventually became available in junior colleges, as did remedial and compensatory courses for students in need of such programs. Open-admissions policies, coupled with mandated guidance and counseling programs, opened opportunities for all residents to study at a junior college. Thus academic courses-as well as technical-education, technical-preparation, and continuing-education programs-increasingly became available for students in these colleges. The name change from "junior college" to "community college" or "community junior college" during the 1960s and 1970s was therefore more than a semantic shift. By this time most Texans lived within fifty miles of a community-college campus, and almost anyone could enroll in the many courses offered. Thus the community college had come to serve more than a small, college-bound constituency; by this time it truly served the entire community. In the 1990s community colleges provided services to their local constituents while maintaining state standards so as to assure quality and to keep receiving state funding. State aid to community colleges increased over the years. From the initial fifty dollars a student in 1941, state aid increased to more than $1.2 billion in 1994–95. Funding, however, remained a challenge, as enrollments and expenses increased, while at the same time the state legislature faced belt-tightening mandates. Community colleges consequently looked to industry and business as potential sources of additional funding in return for a promise of better-trained employees.
A significant factor in the growth of community colleges in Texas was the Community College Leadership Program, established in 1944 at the University of Texas at Austin. It is the nation's oldest graduate program with a focus on preparing key community-college leaders. With more than 450 graduates by the early 1990s, the program played a prominent role in preparing leaders for community colleges in Texas and elsewhere in the United States and Canada.
The number of public community-college districts in Texas continued to grow-from forty in 1968 to fifty in 1995. These fifty districts operated more than seventy colleges or campuses in 1995, including: Alamo Community College District (which included Palo Alto College, San Antonio College, and St. Philip's College, all in San Antonio); Alvin Community College, Alvin; Amarillo College, Amarillo; Angelina College, Lufkin; Austin Community College, Austin; Bee County College, Beeville; Blinn College, Brenham; Brazosport College, Lake Jackson; Central Texas College District, Killeen; Cisco Junior College, Cisco; Clarendon College, Clarendon; College of the Mainland, Texas City; Collin County Community College District, Plano; Dallas County Community College District (which included Brookhaven College, Farmer's Branch; Cedar Valley College, Lancaster; Eastfield College, Mesquite; El Centro College, Mountain View College, and Richland College, all in Dallas; and North Lake College, Irving); Del Mar College, Corpus Christi; El Paso County Community College District, El Paso; Frank Phillips College, Borger; Galveston College, Galveston; Grayson County College, Denison; Hill College, Hillsboro; Houston Community College System, Houston; Howard County Junior College District (which included Howard College at Big Spring and Southwest Collegiate Institute for the Deaf, Big Spring); Kilgore College, Kilgore; Lamar University System (which included Lamar University-Orange and Lamar University-Port Arthur-both lower-division institutions offering freshman and sophomore-level work-and Lamar Institute of Technology, Beaumont); Laredo Community College, Laredo; Lee College, Baytown; McLennan Community College, Waco; Midland College, Midland; Navarro College, Corsicana; North Central Community College District, Gainesville; North Harris Montgomery Community College District, Houston; Northeast Texas Community College, Mount Pleasant; Odessa College, Odessa; Panola College, Carthage; Paris Junior College, Paris; Ranger College, Ranger; San Jacinto College District (which included Central Campus, Pasadena; and North and South Campuses, Houston); South Plains College, Levelland; South Texas Community College, McAllen; Southwest Texas Junior College District, Uvalde; Tarrant County Junior College District (which included Northeast Campus, Hurst; and Northwest and South Campuses, Fort Worth); Temple Junior College, Temple; Texarkana College, Texarkana; Texas Southmost College, Brownsville; Trinity Valley Community College, Athens; Tyler Junior College, Tyler; Vernon Regional Junior College, Vernon; The Victoria College, Victoria; Weatherford College, Weatherford; Western Texas College, Snyder; Wharton County Junior College, Wharton; and Texas State Technical College (which included campuses in Amarillo, Harlingen, Sweetwater, and Waco). Two private junior colleges, Jacksonville College and Lon Morris College, both in Jacksonville, completed the list of community colleges in Texas in 1995. Funding shortfalls, aging facilities, and the need to improve faculty-incentive programs challenged administrators and legislators alike. In 1993 total enrollment-more than 407,000-in credit-granting courses in public community-college courses in Texas exceeded total enrollment in the state's public universities. In 1995 more than 410,000 students were enrolled in credit-granting community-college courses in Texas. Conservative projections indicated a total enrollment in Texas community colleges of more than 470,000 students by 2000.