The CCAF concept evolved in the early 1970s as a means of gaining accreditation and recognition for Air Force training. Led by Lt Gen George B. Simler, Commander of Air Training Command (ATC), Air Force visionaries recognized the need to enhance the skills of noncommissioned officers (NCOs) as technicians, leaders, and citizens. Representatives of Air Training Command, Air University (AU), and the United States Air Force Academy held a series of conferences in 1971 to discuss the need for increased development of noncommissioned officers as managers of Air Force resources. The conferees recommended the founding of an Air Force community college, and on 9 November 1971, Gen John D. Ryan, Air Force Chief of Staff, approved the establishment of the Community College of the Air Force. The Secretary of the Air Force approved the activation plan 25 January 1972, and the college was established 1 April 1972 at Randolph AFB, Texas.
The seven major Air Force training schools--the five Air Force Schools of Applied Aerospace Sciences, the USAF School of Health Care Sciences, and the USAF Security Service School--provided the technical portion of CCAF's credential when the college was activated. The program model combined the technical education offered by Air Force schools, a core of general education from regionally accredited civilian institutions of higher education, and management education from Air Force or civilian sources.
The college mailed its first official transcript 9 November 1972 and issued its first credential, the Career Education Certificate, 23 August 1973. As the college gained prestige, increasing numbers of enlisted people registered, and more Air Force technical, special, and professional schools joined the CCAF system. As a result as many as 143 such schools have been affiliated with the college after meeting rigorous standards for participation. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) Commission on Occupational Education Institutions accredited the college on 12 December 1973.
By the mid-1970s many civilian consultants were reporting that CCAF standards exceeded the minimum requirements of associate degree programs in civilian community colleges, and in 1975 the Air Force sought degree-granting authority for the college from Congress. President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-361 on 14 July 1976 authorizing the ATC commander to confer the associate degree.
A site review committee, composed of nationally recognized educators appointed by the US Office of Education, evaluated the college in October 1976. After favorable recommendations by the committee and successful public hearings in Washington DC, the Commissioner of Education certified degree-granting authority in January 1977. The college awarded its first associate in applied science degree in April 1977.
Since charter clarification in 1975 limited the Commission on Occupational Education Institutions to non degree-granting institutions, the college immediately began the transition to the SACS Commission on Colleges. The Commission on Colleges accredited the college on 12 December 1980. CCAF maintained its SACS accreditation through 2004 when it began sharing Air University’s regional accreditation through the SACS Commission on Colleges.
CCAF’s administrative offices have been moved three times since its founding at Randolph AFB, Texas in 1972. A brief stay at Lackland AFB, Texas from January of 1977 to March of 1979 was followed by a 30-year stretch in historic Simler Hall at Maxwell AFB, Alabama ending in 2008. In November 2008, CCAF moved to Gunter Annex, Alabama following its re-alignment under Air University’s Barnes Center for Enlisted Education.
Over the years the college has grown both in numbers and recognition. With more than 320,000 registered students, the college is the largest multi-campus community college in the world. Its affiliated schools are located in 36 states, and 8 foreign locations. More than 6,000 CCAF faculty members provide quality instruction for the personal and professional development of enlisted personnel. More than a million transcripts have been issued in the last 10 years, and each year CCAF students earn more than 1.6 million hours of college credit. Since issuing its first degree in 1977, the college has awarded more than 550,000 associate in applied science degrees.
Statistics are current as of April 2019.