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History of the American Student Association of Community Colleges

Written By Jerry O’Sullivan

1971-72 Student Government President at Milwaukee Area Technical College

1984 First ASACC Advisor

The American Student Association of Community Colleges was born in 1984 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. For a ten-year period Milwaukee Area Technical College was looking for a national student organization that focused on educational issues in Washington.

In the late 1960’s and 70’s our college students were in a deep period of questioning our institutions and the direction of our Nation. The Vietnam War was in full swing. On the national level there were several national student organizations. The American Student Government was under indictment for mail fraud and the organization was in bankruptcy, the Association of Southern Student Governments surprisingly voted themselves out of existence at a spring meeting. The National Student Association, a social child of the 30’s, was found to be funded by the Central Intelligence Agency through a store front. It was hemorrhaging members and had a spin off called the National Student Lobby.

The student Leaders looking at the situation would have made the decision to join the National Student Lobby, but it rejoined what was left of NSA to form United States Student Association. The difficulty is that their docket was beyond just educational issues and many social issues which were important to society but the MATC students did not feel that was their purpose of representing their student body.

A group of eight students met in Washington DC in the fall of 1974 to set up a new more moderate organization that would address educational issues and leadership development. It was the National Institute of Student Governments. The organization lasted two years. They could not get the trust of American weary of protests and a war which would take 54,000 young American lives and still had a year to go until its resolution.

Small attempts were made but it was not until 1984 that a group of student government leaders met with the Dean of Students at MATC Alidor Vanderport and Student Government Advisor Jerry O’Sullivan and decided it was time. A group of 14 students met once a week to plan for a December charter meeting of a new national student organization. The basic concepts it would be for community college student leaders. They felt that in doing this they would not be the low kid in the organization but could take a leadership role in the organization. The second priority was that the organization would stay with educational issues germane to the community college student bodies across our country.

A map of the Midwest was laid out on a table and with a compass a circle was drawn around Milwaukee going out 300 miles. Letters went out to all the community colleges that fell into a circle. On December 5, 1984 23 colleges got together to write a new constitution for the organization. At the end of the weekend the new organization was born. It was named the American Student Association of Junior, Technical, and Community Colleges. The three key students were Dawn Drellos who chaired the conference, Ronald Hendree was the first president, and Cheryl McClane architect of the constitution. Drellos went on to get her Law Degree from Marquette University, Hendree, an African-American male, started as a cab driver and graduated for the University of Wisconsin Madison Law School, and McClane a full-blooded Chippewa Indian went on to finish her Master’s Degree in counseling at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee.

ASAJTCC later amended their name to the American Student Association of Community Colleges. The new organization held two meeting a year first in Milwaukee, then St Louis and then Orlando. They aligned themselves with the Association of Community College trusties and their head of governmental Affairs in Frank Mensel, one of the godfathers of the Pell Grant, who had the vision to see the students as an important part of the Washington Legislative Process. It was an exciting start with for the young organization.

ASACC Executive Director Phil Clegg, and the Founders and long-time supports of ASACC, Frank Mensel, Cathy Lechmaier, John Ravekes and Jerry O'Sullivan

For the past 36 years thousands of community college student leaders have attended ASACC conferences learned the educational issues from top government officials representing the Democrats, Republicans and the White House. The students learned to present themselves in a positive professional manner on Capitol Hill. The organization has stayed with its theme of being evolutionary and not revolutionary. When asked at a conference there is good representation from both Democrats and Republican and centrist student leaders.

The students have been staunch defenders of the Pell Grant, keeping Employee Educational Assistance a fringe benefit rather than have it be taxable and Reauthorization of several Higher Education Acts.

In 2014 the students decided to ask Congress to change the tax code to allow pre-tax dollars to be used for paying off student loans.

The organization today has been under the leadership of Phil Clegg, the Executive Director for the last 20 years, who himself was the president of the student government at Utah Valley University. ASACC is proud of its past, present and looks forward to a limitless future.

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