The school grew rapidly, and by 1888, it had a Board of Trustees that was granted a charter from Towns County as a legal entity entitled to “procure, exact and maintain a place for Divine worship, and for school and parsonage purposes under the direction of the Methodist Episcopal Church South…” Ten acres of land had been secured from Mrs. N. L. Robertson, and the attention of the Athens philanthropist Young L. G. Harris had resulted in the contribution of enough money that by 1888 there were 11 buildings (mostly boarding houses), a classroom building, president’s residence, bell tower and laundry. There were three grade levels that granted certificates of proficiency rather than diplomas or grades. Tuition was $1 per month, with an additional 10 cents for incidental fees. In 1888, the name changed from McTyeire Institute to Young Harris Institute in appreciation of Judge Harris’s support of the school.
In 1889, the Board of Trustees faced several challenges to move the growing school. While enrollment was phenomenal, the isolation of the area made securing goods and teachers very difficult. In its June meeting, the Board of Trustees discussed moving the school to Blairsville—going so far as to agree to it if Judge Harris approved. At the same time, they rejected a move to unite with Hayesville College as the “plan was impracticable.” Why it didn’t move is lost to time—perhaps Judge Harris did not approve the plan, and so they stayed in Young Harris.
By 1891, the name of the school officially changed to Young L. G. Harris College. The school petitioned the post office to change its name as well. The school was perpetually in debt, and its benefactor—Judge Harris—died in 1894. While he had made a generous provision for the school in his will, more than 40 members of his family went to court to contest it, and the litigation held up the money for several years. During this time, there was again a concerted effort to move the school to a more accessible location—this time to Demorest.
By 1897, the litigation over Young L. G. Harris’s will was resolved by the Georgia Supreme Court, and the College received $16,000 from his estate. M.J. Cofer, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, is quoted as saying “on the whole, we consider the outlook for the College is promising of great good” (BOT Minutes, 1898).
The College discontinued offering primary school education in the 1918 Catalog, and by the 1919 Catalog, the College was no longer offering baccalaureate degrees. From 1918 until 1938, Young Harris College offered four years of high school (The Academy) and two years of college. In 1938, the first two years of high school were dropped, and so Young Harris College offered two years of high school and two years of college until The Academy was phased out in 1958.
In 1931, Young Harris College was accepted for accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). However, almost immediately upon accreditation, YHC was placed on probation by SACS because of its lack of substantial endowment. SACS was also concerned about low salaries for the teachers with a too high workload and would not allow for the production taken from the College farm to be counted as income or endowment—resulting in a deficit on paper where none existed. Finally, due to concerted fundraising by the Board of Trustees, particularly Scott Appleby, the endowment was considered large enough and the probation lifted in 1951.
During its time as a junior college, many academic programs were started and dropped at Young Harris College. The first Summer School program was designed to serve local public school teachers, resulting in many local teachers receiving diplomas in education beyond the provisional certification level. In 1941, the College offered both a terminal two-year college diploma and a college prep diploma for those planning to continue at the baccalaureate level. During the World War II years and beyond, ROTC programs were offered. The College offered one- and two-year terminal programs in clerical and stenographic studies into the 1960s. There was a home economics program, agriculture classes and summer courses in forestry management. There has been a program in hospitality management in the past. All of these programs were replaced by others as the needs of potential students changed.
Throughout the years, the College has survived by being flexible. At the beginning of World War II, then President T. J. Lance stated, “prospects for the remainder of the year are a dark secret known to Providence and the Draft Boards.” During that time, because of a lack of students for the College, the program shifted, and the high school schedule and courses more closely aligned with the College. "[W]e are offering courses which can be taken by students in the 8th grade. That way we hope to offset the loss of students from the higher age brackets” (President’s Report to the Board of Trustees, November 1942). When the war was over, the College returned to its previous structure.
Many times the Trustees and administration of the College have considered the viability of the junior college model. In 1945, President J. Worth Sharp wrote “problems of maintaining an adequate educational service on the Junior College level become more and more complex with each passing year.” In 1952, a joint committee of the North Georgia Annual Conference and the YHC Board of Trustees adopted a resolution “that it is both possible and feasible for Young Harris College to become a four-year college.” In the 1961 Self-Study, the Committee writes “although many have suggested that Young Harris College be changed to a four-year college, the Board has decided that it should remain a two-year college” (p. 25). In 1996, Dr. Thomas Yow reaffirmed the College’s commitment to being the best two-year school possible.
In April 2007, the Board of Trustees charged incoming president Cathy Cox to grow the College to four-year status. This commitment spurred an era of growth, innovation and the building of facilities to meet the needs of an expanding institution.
In December 2008, Young Harris College received accreditation as a baccalaureate-granting institution, and the first junior class of the modern era was enrolled in Fall 2009. The first four majors were biology, business and public policy, English and music. Since that time, the College has grown to offer more than 25 baccalaureate degree programs across disciplines and added a Master of Arts in Teaching program in 2019.
While the story of Young Harris College is full of times both good and bad, these are just a few highlights to help orient interested persons to the evolving and changing nature of what is now, and will continue to be, YHC.