Changes happened fast in just about all aspects of life during the Boomer Generation. One area where boomers exceeded what their parents achieved was in getting a college degree. In fact, at the start of the Boomer Generation in 1946, according the U.S. Census Bureau, almost half of the adult U.S. population did not complete high school, let alone attend college.
In 1952, seven percent of the population over the age of 25 had a college degree. Since most people enter college at age 18, by 1964, when the first boomers were entering as freshmen, the percentage jumped to nearly nine percent; In 1972, 12 perent of the adult population over the age of 25 had achieved a college degree; and by 1982, the final year the oldest boomers could begin entering college, the number had grown to almost 18 percent.
There were, of course, massive differences between then and now, in who was able to go to college — the majority were Caucasian males. Women were being accepted into colleges more than pre-war days, but the ratio of men to women in college in 1960 was 54 percent to 38 percent despite more females than males graduating from high school (source: National Center for Education Studies). The ratio of women to men in college would not flip until 1980. Blacks were restricted from many places of higher education until the 1970s.
However, couples were married at younger ages in the boomer decades. In 1960, for example, the average age for a male to get married was 23. That meant the groom may have graduated college that very year, or the year before. Women, on the other hand, were married at age 20, on average. More than likely, that meant a women in college may have dropped out before graduating if the couple wanted children right away. Morés of the time precipitated the phrase, “a woman went to college to get her Mrs. degree.” Mister Boomer would like to state that he found no evidence women attending college during the boomer years got married during those years any more or less than those who did not. The only difference is men not attending college did tend to marry at an earlier age than their college counterparts.
In Mister Boomer’s case, the majority of his high school classmates did in fact go on to get college degrees. In his particular blue collar neighborhood, though, the opposite was true. Manufacturing jobs that paid a living wage in the 1960s and ’70s offered opportunities for men and women to enter the workforce immediately after high school.
While women and minorities had their struggles with getting accepted into colleges, and having the ability to pay for it, young men had another avenue to navigate: the military. Men were required to register for compulsory service in the military — The Draft — at age 18. The Draft was an annual lottery based on birthdate; each day of the year was issued a random number from one to 365. For example, in 1970, men born on January 1, 1951 were issued number 133, while those unlucky enough to have been born on January 5 were number 33. Men whose birthdate matched a number in the mid-200s and above would probably not be called for service. Men in college could, however, get a student deferment to delay military service until after their graduation. This was an especially big deal since a good many college men were not keen on being sent to Vietnam. It was revealed early on that students from wealthier families found ways to postpone or even eliminate their responsibility to serve by going to college. In 1971, Congress acted to eliminate the student deferment, with the goal of leveling out the inequities of college vs. non-college, wealthy vs. poor. The legislation allowed a male student to finish the current semester before entering the military, when called. Mister Boomer was one of those college males who saw their student deferment disappear. However, in 1973 the Draft was ended and replaced by the all-volunteer armed services we have today. Having not been called before the Draft ended, Mister B finished his college degree.
Today the percentage of people receiving college degrees — male and female — has been raised to around 35 percent. In the 60-plus years since the first boomers began graduating from college, the percentage of college graduates has nearly doubled.
College attendance was booming in the boomer years, but statistics show the majority did not go. How about you, boomers? Did you get a college degree, or did you go directly into the workforce?