Monday, June 7, 2010

GIs jam state's schools after World War II



"Education is an ornament in prosperity and a refuge in adversity."
__ Aristotle, 4th Century B.C.


With the G.I. Bill authorized by Congress in 1944 and signed into law by Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 22 of that year, returning veterans flooded into Colorado institutions of higher education after World War II. The Serviceman’s Readjustment Act, as it was officially labeled, provided for college or vocational education and a year of unemployment compensation.
My father, graduating from high school just as the war was ending, tells of a freshman year sleeping in the Field House on College Avenue in Fort Collins. The building had been set up as a makeshift dormitory at Colorado A & M (before it was Colorado State University) because the influx of returning soldiers.
“All told, some 117,000 Colorado veterans took advantage of the opportunities the nation offered them (both World War II returnees and, later, those returning from the Korean conflict) to study at college or a university,” according to “A Colorado History,” by Carl Ubbelohde, Maxine Benson, and Duane Smith.
“But this was only a part of the story. Another 9,400 veterans received vocational rehabilitation training; another 77,800 used the home loan benefits provided; 5,200 qualified for similar facilities for purchasing farms, and 2,200 for business loans. The impact on the state’s economy, its educational facilities, and on the returning veterans themselves, stands a marked contrast to the earlier experience of the month’s and years that followed the Armistice of 1918.”
At Colorado A & M, the school switched from a semester to a quarter system to expedite the enrollment of former servicemen and the enrollment almost doubled in a single year. About 1,040 students began in the fall of 1945 but by spring, 1946, 1600 were enrolled and two thirds of the new student population was veterans in need of immediate place to stay. By late 1946, 3,500 students jammed the institution and in an effort to provide quick and cheap housing, Quonset huts had been set up at the corners of West Laurel and Shields Street. A trailer court also appeared beside Veteran Village in the fall of 1946. Additionally, the school lost nearly 50 faculty to other colleges and universities that were able to attract them away higher salaries as they struggled with their own swelling student populations brought on by the same circumstances across the country.
The University of Colorado at Boulder also experienced doubling of its enrolled population and they established a similar Quonset hut village.
“Trailers, followed by 60 Quonset huts purchased from the Federal Housing Authority, were installed on land at the corner of 24th (now Folsom) and Arapahoe for married students and their families; the area quickly became known as ‘Vetsville,’” according to Coloradan, The University of Colorado alumni magazine.
“Vetsville Council, children’s holiday parties and P.H.T. (Putting Hubby Through) commencement ceremonies for supportive wives helped establish a close-knit community. To the regret of students who paid only $62 rent each month, the Quonset huts were demolished in 1973.”
There was still a few remaining Quonset huts on campus in the early 1980s in Fort Collins when I attended Colorado State University, though I think they were used for storage, rather than housing. With only 400 square feet of living space, cold steel walls, and the odd rounded corners to deal with, former students I’ve spoken with who lived in them (though they appreciate the experience and the low rent at the time) tell me the understand why they were abandoned.
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