April 16, 2011
This web site and the material within it are dedicated to a period of higher education referred to as the Academic Revolution (Altbach, Berdahl, and Gumport, pp. 61-65). This was a tumultuous period for the United States, spanning from one war to another; stressed by a fear of a second economic depression, the exponential growth of the Baby Boomer generation, and extreme and sometimes radical reactions to U.S. involvement in Vietnam. But out of this period of stress came some of the greatest changes to higher education.
For academia, these events had a dramatic impact on both the student experience and the structure of higher education. The Academic Revolution timeline starts with the signing of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 22nd of that year. The G.I. Bill, among many other benefits, granted returning and honorably discharged veterans of WWII with $500 of annual support for higher education, vocational training, or refresher courses. The GI Bill gave opportunity for veterans to attend school when they otherwise would not have been able to, and it helped limit the number of unemployed veterans, a major problem following WWI.
The GI Bill had a great impact on college and university life, both private and public because it forced the institutions to quickly adjust to an influx of attendees. The Bill actually more than doubled college enrollment by 1952, only 8 years after it was signed into law. Many colleges opened their doors during the summer and in the evenings to accommodate their new students. Approximately 2.2 million veterans went two- or four-year schools (Greenberg, p.1).
For the life of college students, the GI Bill brought in millions of new students with a no-excuse, no-frill attitude about colleges. They were there to learn to get a good job (Powers, p.1), and that goal was only matched by their equal desire to party. The fraternity system flourished. Popup huts or Quonset huts could be seen across campuses as temporary housing until colleges could build new or make current facilities available. There was also an increase in the number of married students, whom returned to campus with their wives and demanded apartment housing (Williams College Archives).
(Read more about the GI Bill here.)
The Baby Boomer generation, defined as those born between 1946 and 1964, began to impact colleges in the early 1950s. Combined with the GI Bill’s influx of students, colleges found that they could be more selective in the admissions process. Private colleges began specializing in select programs to appeal to some students, and community colleges were established to accommodate others. More than 450 community colleges were established in the 1960s and ‘70s.
(Read more about the Baby Boomers here.)
The State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) was created in 1954 to serve as a liason between the states and federal government. Their job, as they still operate today, is to help develop and sustain the best system of higher education.
Higher Education was quickly becoming more and more of an expected “norm” for high school graduates in the 1950s and ‘60s; but it was the space race and Sputnik that really helped to expand higher education during this time. When Sputnik was launched into orbit on October 5, 1957, it also launched a furvent effort by the U.S. Government to reassess education, specifically science education. Congress doubled the National Science Foundation, resulting in more support for research at both public and private colleges.
The National Defense Education Act of 1958 resulted in new school construction, the establishment of research universities, new fellowships and loans for students seeking degrees of study in the sciences, math, and foreign languages.
With the great space race, not only were Americans closely watching NASA’s accomplishments, but they were also noting the accomplishments of college students and graduates whose study and research helped support space exploration.
(Read more about the Space Race here.)
The Higher Education Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965 and established the first federal student aid. It provided need-based grants to disadvantaged students, and provided government-guaranteed loans to cover the cost of a college degree. It also established the work study program to offer additional assistance to students by paying for college via an on-campus job.
In the midst of the space race and a renewed focus on scholarship, there was also a growing pulse of discontent toward the US Government and its involvement in the Vietnam War. Both college students and their working friends were being drafted into the war. Across the country it was viewed as a pointless war with no end. You had poets, artists, and musicians fighting for peace and demanding that the war end. Many of these sentiments came from the younger generation, and many within that generation began protesting on their college and university campuses. Students were becoming more politically and socially active, more vociferous, and demanding change. The rally cries stretched beyond anti-war sentiment and into demands for free speech, civil rights, and college reform.
There were three main movements that had a great impact on the student life. First, the Free Speech Movement that originated at the University of California Berkeley with a sit-in on September 10, 1965. Students gathered to protest the lecture-heavy class structure, the large lecture halls where one had to have a magnifier to see the professor, and their feelings of being treated like commodities rather than individuals (Petras, p. 343). The protests, rallies, and back-and-forth between students and faculty spanned a four-month period. In the end, the administration agreed to more freedom of speech for the students, allowing them to solicit support for civil rights and anti-war causes. Many faculty members supported the students, establishing tutoring and means to help them continue study when they were incarcerated for the protests.
A few years following the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley, a group of students established the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and staged a number of protests and violent outbursts at Columbia University. Initially established as a peaceful group, their efforts soon escalated to on campus vandalism and eventually the unfortunate demise of some of the more radical members in a bomb explosion. SDS generated a scary level of tension on college campuses. While some of the faculty agreed with what they were protesting, they did not support the violent outbursts. When a member of the group set fire to a campus building, destroying years of irreplaceable research, the opinion of SDS shifted from a group of students fighting for free speech to a violent group without any respect for academia (McCaughey, p. 437).
The Vietnam War continued to be a source of student tension and protest until its end in April of 1975. In the midst of the war, arguably the most memorable student protest occurred at Kent State University. When students found out on April 30, 1970 that the U.S. was invading Cambodia, riots and protests broke out around the country. Kent State’s began on May 1st and ended tragically on May 4th with the death of four students and wounding of nine more. The Kent State Protest or the Kent State Massacre drew massive attention to student protesting as well as authoritative intervention. Kent State was shut down for a season, grief counseling was established for the first time on a college campus, and the role of the professor now included developing closer relationships with students, and a greater focus on the mental and social needs of the students. This focus remains a top priority of many professors (and institutions), placed only slightly below or equal to the curricular goals of the educator.
(Read more about student protests here.)