1931: Great Depression leaves students strapped for cash
The Great Depression dealt a major financial blow to just about everyone in the country—including college students. Joe Gruzalski of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign looked at newspaper archives from the era and found that many students tried to sell anything they could spare, from needles and shoelaces to refrigerators, to make money in 1931.
1932: Universities slash professor salaries
Amid the financial losses caused by the Great Depression, universities looked to professor pay as an area ripe for cost cutting in the 1930s. Around 84% of colleges cut professor salaries during this decade, sometimes by more than 40%, per Ellen Schrecker of The Chronicle of Higher Education.
1933: Scholars flee fascist Europe to US
The New School created its University in Exile program in 1933, offering asylum to scholars who needed to flee fascist Europe. Participants would go on to “transform American scholarship” and educate students who would go on to win Nobel Prizes and Oscars, according to Lucie Levine of 6sqft.
1934: Professor workloads increase amid a rise in enrollment
Enrollment began to climb at public colleges in 1934. As a result, professor workloads increased, and perks (such as travel and research grants) shrank or went away entirely, per Ellen Schrecker of The Chronicle of Higher Education.
1935: National Youth Administration provides work-study program
The National Youth Administration was founded through the Works Progress Administration in 1935. It ran a Student Aid Program to provide work-study opportunities for college students, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society.
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1936: Universities struggle to keep up with influx of women
Universities experienced an influx of female students during the Great Depression. As a result, Penn State experienced a housing shortage for women in 1936. Its dorms for women did not even have enough space for half of its female students that year.
1937: 15% of young adults attend college
While colleges were seeing an uptick in attendance in the mid-1930s, the proportion of Americans who pursued higher education was still relatively small compared with current rates. In 1937, just 15% of people age 18 to 20 enrolled in university, and most of them were wealthy, per James B. Hunt Jr. of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.
1938: College administrators push for standardized tests
A 13-year research project on high school and college students known as The Pennsylvania Study led to an increased emphasis of standardized tests among college administrators when it concluded in 1938. The findings ultimately reformed college applications and the admissions process, according to Craig Kridel of the University of South Carolina, via Encyclopedia Britannica.
1939: Great Depression propels enrollment in junior college
Enrollment in junior colleges skyrocketed during the Great Depression. In just a decade (1929–39), enrollment at these schools saw a nearly threefold increase to 150,000 students, according to a report from Richard L. Drury of Inquiry.
1940: Professors urge universities to protect academic freedom
The American Association of University Professors issued a restatement of its principles on academic freedom in 1940. The group called for professors to have full freedom to research and publish their findings, discuss their subject matter in the classroom, and speak without censorship.
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