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History of the College


History of the College

New England College of Optometry was founded in 1894 as the Klein School of Optics, and is the oldest continuously operating school of Optometry in the United States. During the past century, as optometry evolved as an independent health care profession, it expanded its curriculum and clinical programs to reflect the changing demands of the public. The name changed in 1901 to the Massachusetts School of Optometry, in 1950 to the Massachusetts College of Optometry, and in 1976 to the New England College of Optometry (NECO) to reflect its role in providing education for approximately 70% of the region’s optometrists. Today the College, through its Center for the International Advancement of Optometry, has also instituted the largest international optometric program in the world by developing extension programs, the first of their kind, with China, France, Italy, Spain, South Africa and, most recently, Germany.

The patient care programs of the College began in 1933 with an external clinic at the Harry E. Burroughs Newsboys Foundation. In 1941, it opened the Massachusetts Optometric Clinic on Commonwealth Avenue that continues today as our multi-site clinical subsidiary, New England Eye (NEE). Its main offices and flagship clinic are currently located adjacent to the Boston University Campus. NEE’s system of clinics has expanded to include sites throughout the Boston area, and is the largest provider of ambulatory eye and vision care services in Massachusetts. The College’s nationwide network of clinical training affiliates has grown to over 50 clinics, hospitals, and specialized care facilities, including three sites in other countries.

In recent years, the College has initiated an ambitious and successful program of basic and applied research. Its faculty annually attracts several million dollars in federal grants and contributes greatly to advances in the knowledge of ocular and visual disorders. The College is particularly known as a center of excellence for research in the etiology, prevention, and treatment of myopia.

In addition to the Doctor of Optometry degree, the College also awards the Bachelor of Science in Optometry, the Master of Science in Vision Science, and the honorary degrees of Ocular Science and Doctor of Humane Letters. The institution is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges and its professional degree programs are accredited by the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education of the American Optometric Association.

New England College of Optometry offers three programs of study leading to the Doctor of Optometry degree. The standard four-year program is for applicants who hold a baccalaureate degree or who have completed a concentrated prerequisite program of undergraduate course work. There is also a two-year Accelerated Doctor of Optometry Program for applicants already holding a doctoral degree in science or medicine, and an Advanced Standing International Program for those who have earned a degree in optometry from a recognized foreign school of optometry. The College offers postgraduate residency and fellowship programs in specialized areas of optometry, such as Cornea and Contact Lens Practice, Pediatrics, and Community Health Practice. Selected students interested in research can obtain the M.Sc. degree while simultaneously pursuing the O.D. degree.

The College’s Beacon Street campus, originally built as private homes in the late 1800s, was completely restored in the late 1990s and, in addition to providing classroom, laboratory, and office facilities, has won several local and national awards for outstanding preservation of historic buildings. Based on its long history of innovative concepts, the College is poised to move to even greater heights in the 21st Century.

NECO History Timeline

  • 1894 Klein School of Optics established by August Klein

  • 1900 The curriculum is expanded to one year

  • 1901 The Klein School becomes the Massachusetts School of Optometry

  • 1909 A formal two-year program is offered to students

  • 1933 The first external clinic at the Harry E. Burroughs Newsboys Foundation Medical Clinic

  • 1946 The School is granted a non-profit charter with the right to confer professional degrees

  • 1947 The School is accredited by the American Optometric Association

  • 1948 The School acquires and moves to a new location at 178 Newbury Street

  • 1950 The School becomes the Massachusetts College of Optometry

  • 1968 The College becomes the first optometry school to affiliate with a U.S. public health hospital

  • 1971 The College purchases the Beacon Street buildings, which become its permanent home

  • 1972 The College begins its affiliations with Boston’s neighborhood health centers

  • 1975 The College becomes the first to certify optometrists in the use of diagnostic pharmaceutical agents

  • 1976 The College is renamed The New England College of Optometry

  • 1985 The Second Century Capital Campaign is born and eventually raises $2 million for the College

  • 1992 Twin College Agreement with Wenzhou Medical College in China is signed

  • 1994 Center for the International Advancement of Optometry is established

  • 1994 Centennial Gala is held at the Museum of Fine Arts

  • 1995 First federal research grant received; Myopia Research Center established

  • 1998 Gala to honor Hyman Kamens’ fifty years of service

  • 1999 Renovations to the Beacon Street campus are completed, and numerous local and national awards for outstanding preservation of historic buildings are won

  • 2000 The College hosts Eighth International Conference on Myopia

  • 2002 A new clinical teaching affiliate, New England Eye Institute, Inc., is established

  • 2009 The College celebrates its 115th Anniversary