In 1966, the Virginia Assembly enacted historic legislation establishing a statewide system of comprehensive community colleges. This legislation brought most post high school education below the bachelor’s level into one system, and broadened the base of higher education in the state to such an extent that Virginia, for the first time in the twentieth century, took a major step toward democratizing higher education. As comprehensive institutions, the community colleges endeavor to serve all segments of society.
In Southwest Virginia, a committee comprised of local business, civic, industrial and political leaders was appointed by the local governing bodies of Lee, Scott, Wise, and Dickenson Counties and the City of Norton for the purpose of establishing a comprehensive community college. In April of 1970, the college Board had its first meeting at which Judge William C. Fugate was elected chair. Funds for construction were allocated by the State Board for Community Colleges and construction began in early 1971.
- In August 1971, Dr. George B. Vaughan was named president of Mountain Empire community College and groundbreaking ceremonies were held in October of that same year. The first classes were offered in the fall of 1972.
- In January 1978, Dr. Victor B. Ficker assumed his responsibilities as the second president of Mountain Empire.
- The third president, Dr. Ruth Mercedes Smith, served from June 1988 to June 1991.
- Dr. Robert H. Sandel served as the fourth president from January 1992 to July 2001.
- Dr. Terrance Suarez served as the fifth president from January 2002 to June 2010.
- Dr. Scott Hamilton became the sixth president in July 2010.
- Dr. Kristen Westover became the seventh president in July 2017.