What college was like the year you were born
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it a strange time to start a semester at college. While the first few weeks of university typically involve settling into your dorm, getting to know your professors, learning the campus layout, and (of course) lots of socializing, everything has changed this year. Some colleges have told students to stay home and attend all their classes online, while others have opted to bring back a portion of students and mandate social distancing protocols and hybrid learning. No matter which school students attend this fall, they’re bound to have a radically different experience than in previous years.
The situation has prompted students to take their academic futures into their own hands. Case in point: College “collab houses.” Taylor Lorenz of The New York Times reports that groups of college students have decided to form micro-communities where they can live and work together in another location. For some Michigan students, that’s meant moving to Brooklyn for big-city living. And for a group from Yale, that’s turned into a semester of sun and surf in Barbados—all an attempt to recapture some of the traditional college experience during an unprecedented year.
So how does college in 2020 compare to when you were born? Stacker took a look at what college was like every year over the last century. To provide statistical context about college, Stacker consulted multiple sources. For data from 1946 to 1990, Stacker consulted the National Center for Education Statistics’s 120 Years of American Education report, released in 1993. For data from 1991 to 2020, Stacker consulted a separate table from the National Center for Education Statistics, released in 2019. As a result of using two separate reports, there is a discrepancy in data-collection methodology that causes a noticeable decrease in college enrollment between 1990 and 1991. Data from 2019 and 2020 are also projections. Stacker supplemented these statistics with information from higher education organizations, university timelines, news articles, and other authoritative sources to discover major moments in higher education since 1921.
Get ready for some serious nostalgia: Here’s what college was like every year from 1921 to 2020.
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1921: First Black women in US earn doctorates
College students began to see that success in higher education wasn’t solely limited to white men in the early 1920s. Eva B. Dykes, Sadie T. Mossell Alexander (pictured), and Georgiana R. Simpson became the first African American women to earn doctorates in the U.S. in 1921, according to The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.
1922: Greek life influences socializing on campus
Greek life became the driving force behind socializing among college students in the 1920s, writes Paula Fass in “The Damned and the Beautiful: American Youth in the 1920s,” via HuffPost. Fraternities and sororities would help male and female college students connect through formal dances and dinners.
1923: Jewish campus organization gets its start
Hillel was founded in 1923 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Jewish student organization can now be found at more than 550 universities and colleges.
1924: Junior colleges gain more recognition
While junior colleges had been around since the early 20th century, they began to earn more recognition during the mid-1920s when leaders of the American Association of Junior Colleges implemented new strategies for these institutions, according to Richard L. Drury of Inquiry. These schools are now known as community colleges.
1925: New York founds first home economics college
1926: Association of American Universities bans foreign institutions
The leadership team of the Association of American Universities agreed to restrict membership solely to universities in the U.S. in 1926, according to Philip Altbach and Liz Reisberg of Inside Higher Ed. The move by the prestigious organization was part of a larger trend of academic isolationism.
1927: John D. Rockefeller envisions student loan system
In 1927, John D. Rockefeller proposed a student loan program for students struggling to meet the rising cost of tuition, reports Lily Rothman of Time. The system he envisioned would have included the possibility of no-interest loans, with the first payment due a decade after graduation.
1928: Universities devote more money to football
College athletics increased in importance throughout the early 20th century. Columbia University finished building Baker Field in 1928, prompting other universities to invest more money in their football programs, per a report from the Brookings Institution.
1929: Prohibition fails to stop on-campus drinking
The advent of Prohibition in 1920 didn’t stop college students from drinking on campus throughout the following decade, writes Michael Stephen Hevel in his thesis, “Betwixt Brewings: A History of College Students and Alcohol.” A 1929 article published in the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s student newspaper noted that anyone would notice “a strong presence of alcohol” if they walked by the campus fraternities.
1930: Great Depression hurts private college endowments
The Great Depression made a serious impact on the financial state of many private colleges and universities. Throughout the 1930s, private colleges saw their endowments decrease by more than 26% and alumni gifts shrivel up by at least 70%, according to Ellen Schrecker of The Chronicle of Higher Education.
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