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By Geoffrey Norman
hen the boys came home at the end of World War II, some 2 million of them did something that most of them had likely thought they would never do...
They went to college.
Before the war, a college education was something that was reserved for those who had some family money. That, or the kind of intellectual or athletic gifts that could be leveraged into a scholarship. For the vast majority, college was simply not affordable. Then came the GI bill. If you had served, then there was government money for tuition, books, and room and board... even a little pocket money. To accommodate the crush of new students, the schools converted surplus barracks into hasty dormitories. Most of the new college boys were probably unable to tell the difference and it isn’t likely they felt like they were enduring any sort of hardship. The ad hoc dorms were a lot better than what they had become used to. College life, in general, beat the hell out of Bastogne or Iwo Jima. Eager to get on with their lives, many of the returning vets got married and started families. For those at Penn State, there were surplus trailers. One hundred of them, at first. Two hundred and fifty, eventually. These were packed into a kind of ad hoc neighborhood with unpaved streets.
In his book, Penn State: An Illustrated History , Michael Bezilla,” writes... It was the non-academic side of college life that residents of that little community would remember best – the beds that folded from the living room walls of those tiny trailers, the kitchens equipped with gasoline or kerosene stoves, the communal baths (the trailers had no sewer connections), the camaraderie that evolved among residents who shared these luxuries. Families would get together in the days just before the government checks arrived and pool the food that remained on their shelves. Eventually, the students graduated and went to work. They were also faithful to the biblical command to “be fruitful and multiply.” And, oh son, did they ever multiply. They gave the world the “baby boom.” By the time these offspring were of the age, a college education was considered just one more thing to which they were entitled. States like Ohio had made college affordable to kids from blue collar families. It was a sort of
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