In 1914, Massachusetts Agricultural College (now UMass), Amherst, Mount Holyoke, and Smith joined International YMCA College (now Springfield College) to form the Committee on University Extension of the Connecticut Valley Colleges, a joint continuing education program for the Pioneer Valley. In later years, Amherst, Mount Holyoke, Smith, and MAC–later known as Massachusetts State and UMass–increased their collaboration, culminating in the formation of an inter-library loaning program in 1951 and a joint astronomy department in 1959. Finally, in 1965, Amherst, Mount Holyoke, Smith and UMass incorporated the Four College Consortium, which became the Five College Consortium when Hampshire College was founded in 1968.
The five colleges operate both as independent entities as well as mutually dependent institutions. The mission of the consortium is to support long-term forms of cooperation that benefit the faculty, staff and students of the five colleges. Shared academic and cultural resources are the primary initiative of the consortium. This means that students at each of these schools are permitted and encouraged to take classes at the other colleges (through “cross-registration”) at no additional cost to the student. Student groups and organizations often draw participants from all five campuses and several academic programs are run by the Five Colleges (for example: astronomy, dance, some foreign languages, and women’s studies). The colleges also participate in an inter-library loan program, allowing students, staff, and faculty to take advantage of all five campuses’ collections.
The Five College Radio Astronomy Observatory was founded in 1969 by the Five College Astronomy Department. Together, the Five Colleges operate WFCR (Five College Radio), an NPR member station operating at 88.5 MHz in the FM band.