Traditional Students and Veterans: Going to School at the Teachers College after World War II


President Malcolm Price and the administration of the Iowa State Teachers College knew that World War II would end at some point.  They knew that they would need to prepare the college for larger numbers of students.  Enrollment had declined sharply during the worst part of the Depression.  Enrollment had averaged about 2200 in the 1920s, but then it declined to 1472 in 1932.  It rose to about 1900 in the late 1930s, but, following the entry of the United States into World War II, enrollment plunged to 820 and 893 in 1943 and 1944, respectively.

During World War II, the Teachers College campus was home to military training units of the Army Air Corps and the Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES), a branch of the United States Navy.  President Price arranged for these units to train on campus, because he wanted the Teachers College to contribute to the nation's war effort.  With enrollment at a low wartime level, the college had valuable, but underutilized, dormitory, dining, classroom, and teaching capacity.  However, President Price was also thinking about the future of the college.  If he could keep a good portion his faculty and staff on the payroll, and if he could keep the campus infrastructure functioning, the college would be in a better position to be ready for larger postwar enrollments.

The arrangement with the military training units worked well.  Thousands of young men and women completed their training on the Teachers College campus.  As members of the armed forces, they wore uniforms, marched to class, took their training, and then moved on to their next military duty assignment.  And, in parallel, a smaller number of traditional students completed their degree work in the college curriculum.  They went to dances, attended concerts and lectures, joined sororities, worried about their grades, and then found teaching jobs.  In some ways, these parallel tracks, military and traditional, persisted after the war.

While most college administrators knew that enrollment would climb after the war, few had any clear idea of either the dramatic size of the increase or of its composition.  Few recognized the full implications of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the GI Bill of Rights.  The educational portion of this bill made it possible of millions of veterans to return to or enter college.  The effect of this education benefit on the Teachers College was extraordinary.  Not only was there an increased number of traditional college age students who began college in 1945.  There was also an unprecedented number of veterans.  Enrollment increased from 1233 in 1945 to 2475 in 1946, 2846 in 1947, and 3083 in 1948.  That was a 250% increase in three years.  Thereafter, enrollment tapered off a bit. 

The sheer enrollment numbers, in and of themselves, presented problems to the Teachers College administration.  Finding qualified faculty members and sufficient housing was a challenge.  But the veterans, who were often married and had children, presented special problems.  First, the college had no precedent or legal authority to provide housing for married students.  And the local private housing market was incredibly tight.  And second, many of the veterans had seen extensive, rough duty around the world during the war.  Some knew more about certain subjects than did the faculty.  Would these older, more experienced students fit into a college classroom?

These were the circumstances that set the scene on the Teachers College campus in 1948.