Community College

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The inner courtyard of the Nuremberg Adult Education Center (education center)

A Volkshochschule ( VHS ) is a non-profit institution for adult and further education . In the various countries, institutions of different character and with structures and objectives that differ from those of the German adult education centers can be found under this name. Contrary to their name, adult education centers are not universities in the sense of the tertiary education sector . In Germany they are assigned to the quaternary education area of continuing education.

General information on adult education centers in Germany


Logo of the German Adult Education Association

Local authorities , such as municipalities or districts (often also called Kreisvolkshochschule (KVHS) ), registered non-profit associations , non-profit limited liability companies (gGmbH) or special-purpose associations act as sponsors of adult education centers .

Each adult education center is independent. However, there are state associations of adult education centers in all federal states (except the city states), in which overarching matters are regulated, negotiations are conducted at state and federal level and close cooperation between the individual adult education centers is organized in the regions. All VHS regional associations are members of the German Adult Education Association (DVV).

Today, adult education centers see themselves as municipal training centers. They offer courses, individual events, compact seminars, study trips and trips as well as "education on request" in the form of so-called company or in-house courses.


As a rule, the adult education centers are financed by the six "pillars":

  • Grants from the state ,
  • Grants from the municipality (s),
  • Grants from the district,
  • Income from subscriber fees
  • Donate and
  • Third-party funding (e.g. federal funding, the Federal Employment Agency , project grants from the European Social Fund or the district governments)

In addition, many teachers are not permanently employed, but are freelance workers, which is why the respective VHS does not have to pay social contributions. Since the adult education centers only have to cover part of the costs with participant fees - without making a profit - VHS courses are comparatively inexpensive and thus accessible to most sections of the population.

Course offer

The courses offered by adult education centers consist of courses of various lengths, usually between 1 and 15 weeks. As a rule, it is open to everyone aged 16 and over. There are courses that are tailored to the needs of working people. Others are particularly geared towards the unemployed, housewives and pensioners or retirees. Depending on the target group and the availability of rooms, courses take place in the morning, evening or as an intensive course on the weekend. Another mainstay of the adult education centers are educational leave according to the employee training laws of the federal states . Many adult education centers carry out study trips and excursions and offer training courses for companies, associations, clubs or private individuals as contract measures.

The following subject areas are typical for the range of courses:

The Adult Education Association operates the Internet learning portal I-want-to-learn , on which users are free and anonymous - supervised by tutors - u. a. Can learn to write and read.


The forerunners of the adult education centers include the university expansion movement at the end of the 19th century, the public lecture system and the educational work of the workers' and craftsmen's education associations . The Humboldt Academy is often referred to as the first adult education center , in which from 1879 scientific results in lecture cycles were communicated in popular form to the non-academically educated citizens.

The Danish folk high school of Grundtvigian style also had a lasting influence on the development of adult education centers in Germany . Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig is considered to be the founder of the first (home) adult education center in 1844.

Today adult education is understood as an organized form of lifelong learning . Adult education centers make a contribution to realizing the right to education and equal opportunities . They derive their educational mandate from the principles of enlightenment and human rights . The global social changes show the importance attached to adult education centers in the future.

Some ideas of the original community colleges can be found today in the concepts of national universities .

Adult Education Centers in Germany

The first German adult education centers emerged in the German Empire . The Humboldt Academy (1878), the Frankfurter Bund für Volksbildung (1890) and the Freie Hochschule Berlin (1902) are among the forerunners . The adult education centers in the Palatinate cities of Ludwigshafen (1902) and Kaiserslautern (1904) were also early foundations. A little earlier, however, in 1899 the Mannheim Evening Academy , the city of Mannheim's adult education center, was founded.

Most of the foundations took place after the end of the First World War in 1918 with the aim of better educating the broader population who had previously been excluded from education. In Art. 148 of the Reich Constitution of 1919 , the promotion of education, including adult education centers, was enshrined in law for the first time. It is thanks to the initiative of Robert Ferdinand Piloty that the Würzburg Adult Education Center was established, which offered its first semester in the lecture halls of the university on November 25, 1918 and which by 1919/20 had more than 5,000 students. Herman Nohl , Heinrich Weinel and Reinhard Buchwald founded the Volkshochschule Jena at the end of 1918 , and one day after it opened there were already 2,000 enrolled students. In some cases, companies participated in the establishment of adult education centers, such as the Carl Zeiss company at the Thuringian Adult Education Center in 1919 . The Volkshochschule Essen was founded - largely at the instigation of the then Mayor of Essen and later Chancellor Hans Luther - on May 28, 1919 by the Committee for Popular Education formed by the Essen city council . In 1919 there were already more than 150 adult education centers. In 1927 the "Reich Association of German Adult Education Centers" was founded. On January 25, 1920, the "Free Adult Education Center Linden" was inaugurated as an educational institution. The management took over Ada Lessing, who held this office for 13 years until her emigration to Czechoslovakia in 1933. Theodor Lessing participated with several lecture cycles and otherwise devoted himself to his teaching duties at the Technical University of Hanover as well as his journalistic and journalistic work.

Adult education centers in their own buildings

  • The Bund Quickborn organized encounters similar to those at an adult education center at Rothenfels Castle, which it had acquired and expanded in 1919. They were banned by the National Socialist Gestapo in 1939.
  • The Heimvolkshochschule Tinz (today in Gera ) as an institution of the People's State of Reuss , later of the State of Thuringia , existed from 1920 to 1933. It was a boarding school with a socialist character with 50 places, in which 50 men or women in half-year courses in the subjects of politics, History, economics, law and were taught with a demanding cultural program. Their seat was the Tinz moated castle .
  • Since 1923 , the Heimgartenwerk in Neisse has been devoting a facility, which was initially built as a non-enjoyable meeting place, to events at an adult education center. In addition, the Heimgartenwerk erected a new building in 1926, in which participants could live during their courses and training sessions, making it one of the few home adult education centers in German history. In 1933, the National Socialist rulers appropriated the site and its buildings and used it initially for labor service and the Wehrmacht , later as a kindergarten school for women. At the end of the war in 1945 and after the expulsion, the buildings were partly destroyed and partly dedicated to other purposes.
  • After the Second World War , the adult education center in Marl (founded in 1946 under the name “die insel”) was the first in Germany since 1955 to have its own building.

Adult education centers in the western zones and in the Federal Republic of Germany

After the Second World War , the representatives of the newly founded or reopened adult education centers in the American and British occupation zones showed little willingness to follow the instructions of the American or British occupying forces; they tried to implement programs of their own choice. The military government directed then in their zones own adult education institutions, which first tasks of re-education took over, and later the general political education and enlightenment. So initially America Houses and British Information Centers were educational institutions that competed with adult education centers. Later, the adult education institutions of the Allies often merged with the German adult education centers or were transferred to them.

In 1949 a "Working Group of the Regional Associations of German Adult Education Centers" and in 1953 the German Adult Education Association was established. V. (DVV) founded. In the structure plan of the German Education Council of 1970, adult education was understood as an integral part of the education system and comprehensive coverage was sought.

Within the adult education system, a distinction is made between small and urban adult education centers. Adult education centers in large cities are, compared to adult education centers in smaller cities, complex organizational units with a highly differentiated offer structure, a large staff and a large number of participants. The largest adult education center in Germany today is the Munich Adult Education Center . Berlin was a special case insofar as there was no single adult education center for the whole city, but a large number of district adult education centers.

Adult Education Centers in the Soviet Zone and the GDR

Adult education centers were established in the Soviet occupation zone (SBZ) from 1945 with the approval of the SMAD . After the founding of federal states, they were subject to them until the GDR was reorganized into districts (1952). Then they came under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture . The adult education centers underwent an extensive redesign and equation with the regular schools after they moved to the Ministry of Popular Education (1956). A state “evening high school for working people” was created with the main task of enabling graduation afterwards. It was subject to a fixed curriculum that was the same for all adult education centers and issued certificates. Only in the 1970s did a cautious change back to traditional courses (foreign languages, natural sciences, also art and culture). In-company training was carried out in the state-owned companies under their own direction by company adult education centers and in technical company schools (TBS) that were later developed. Cultural and popular science offers were taken over by the Society for the Dissemination of Scientific Knowledge (later Urania ).

Adult education centers in Scandinavia

The Scandinavian (home) adult education centers differ greatly in character from their counterparts in German-speaking countries. These institutions, called folkehøjskole ( Danish ), folkehøgskole ( Norwegian ), folkhögskola ( Swedish ), kansanopisto ( Finnish ) or fólkaháskúli ( Faroese ), are boarding schools with two- to twelve-month courses. The courses are aimed at adults and most of the participants are between 18 and 25 years old. The aim of these schools is to enable students to develop professionally, socially and personally. The courses offered cover a wide range of topics, such as art, craft, music, sport, philosophy, theater, photography or media. There are no exams; rather, special emphasis is placed on personal experience, experience and dialogue. The Scandinavian community colleges once corresponded to the German folk high schools . Today, however, only a few of these adult education institutions offer something similar. Comparable offers for young adults lasting several months are mostly called “long course”, “winter course” or “basic course” in Germany today.

Adult education centers in the German-speaking countries meet in Scandinavia voksenundervisning or vuxenundervisning (about: Adult Education) and partly folkeuniversitet or folkuniversitet (about: People's University). However, the latter are mostly linked to local universities.

In Finland, the German adult education center corresponds to the työvypenopisto or kansalaisopisto ( arbetarinstitut in Swedish), the Finnish workers 'or people's educational institute (which corresponds to the former German workers' and craftsmen's educational associations).

Historical background of the Scandinavian adult education centers

The idea of ​​folk high schools was developed by Grundtvig in Denmark. Grundtvig was convinced that citizens could only use their newly introduced opportunities for democratic co-determination if they had “appropriate education”. He therefore worked to ensure that educational opportunities were also created for adults and that they were accessible to everyone - i.e. H. financially affordable and without selective exams - were. The first Danish adult education center was the first in the world and was opened in Rødding in Schleswig in 1844 .

Adult education centers in Austria

The first Austrian adult education center was the Volksbildungsverein in Margareten founded by Eduard Leisching in 1887 , the polycollege that still exists today . There are currently 272 adult education centers in Austria with a total of up to 500,000 course participants per year.

Adult education centers in Switzerland

The first educational institution similar to a community college existed as early as 1900 with the Université Ouvrière de Genève in Geneva. However, things only really got going in Switzerland later, namely during the time of political crisis, a year after the general strike of 1918, in the cities of Basel, Bern and Zurich. Up until the Second World War, the movement spread rapidly , especially in the canton of Zurich . A total of 36 schools were founded in the canton (today many of them are grouped under the cantonal adult education center). At the same time, only eight new community colleges were created in the rest of Switzerland, and no single one of them in the French-speaking Switzerland was created. After the Second World War, the movement finally spread to French-speaking and Italian-speaking Switzerland. Today there is a network of adult education centers throughout Switzerland.


With the initial issue date April 4, 2019 was the German Post AG , a special stamp in the denomination out of 70 euro cents. The design, entitled 100 Years of Adult Education, comes from the graphic designer Andreas Hoch from Baltmannsweiler .

See also


Web links

Commons : Adult Education Center  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Adult Education Center  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Adult Education Associations

Individual evidence

  2. See the founder of the Humboldt Academy: Wolfgang Ayaß : Max Hirsch : Socialliberal trade union leader and pioneer of adult education centers. Berlin 2013.
  3. Adult Education Centers. German Adult Education Association, accessed on October 31, 2016 .
  4. ^ Josef Olbrich: History of adult education in Germany. Opladen 2001.
  5. ^ Walter Ziegler : The University of Würzburg in transition (1918-20). In: Peter Baumgart (Ed.): Four hundred years of the University of Würzburg. A commemorative publication. Degener & Co. (Gerhard Gessner), Neustadt an der Aisch 1982 (= sources and contributions to the history of the University of Würzburg. Volume 6), ISBN 3-7686-9062-8 , pp. 179-251; here: p. 216 f.
  6. Cf. Rainer Grossbröhmer, Karin Kirch (ed.): From educational bacteria and adult education epidemics : a contribution to the history of the Essen adult education center 1919-1974 . Klartext, Essen 1994, ISBN 3-88474-228-0 . - Although there were previously various popular educational institutions in the city of Essen, such as the "Gewerbeverein" founded in 1865, the "Academic Courses" that had existed since 1907, as well as the in-house training initiatives for their own workforce, such as the "Krupp'schen Bildungsverein" since 1899 ; However, there can be no question of a “participation” by the “ Krupp Company ” in founding the adult education center. Rather, the importance of the programmatic text of the pedagogue Artur Jacobs on the nature and goals of a community college , written in 1918 and published in 1919 by the Essen Free Committee for Popular Education , should be emphasized . A draft for a new public education (Essen 1919) for the founding phase of the Essen VHS.
  7. ^ Josef Olbrich: History of adult education in Germany. Opladen 2001.
  8. ^ Christine Zeuner: History of adult education in Hamburg 1945-1970: Institutions and profiles. Hamburg. LIT 2000, p. 58