Boomers Went to College More Often Than Their Parents

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. MorĂ©s 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?

Boomers Had Amazing Teachers

Did you have an influential teacher in your life? One who went out of the way to help, offer a memorable life lesson, or deliver the kind of encouragement you needed at the right time? Most boomers answer to the affirmative.

For Mister Boomer, she was one of his seventh grade teachers, Miss Downey. She taught English, and her class was not Mr. B’s home room. While of a short, fireplug stature, she commanded attention and respect by being both a strict disciplinarian in the classroom, wielding an aluminum yardstick with all the finesse of the Marquis De Sade, but was never above having a good laugh, or talking about comic books or pop culture, either. Yet when a student would show a comic or cartoon in class, she was also quick to recommend James Thurber cartoons and stories.

She was unusual in her fashion sense in that she almost exclusively wore black dresses with flounced sleeves and touches of white lace, flat shoes and hair shorter than most women in Mister Boomer’s neighborhood. In that regard she very much fit into the Mod look coming out of London’s Carnaby Street around the same time, but muted as if viewed on a black and white television.

Though her presence was memorable in itself, like many of Mister Boomer’s teachers — it was the 1960s after all — what made her top-of-mind to this day was the vocabulary she taught the class. Each week, she would add a selection of words to the list. Her intent was more than providing a spelling challenge, as she discussed the meanings of the words for young minds to digest. Mister B and his classmates would dutifully take notes, knowing that they would be quizzed on these very words a week or two later. While there was nothing unusual about a seventh grade teacher providing a vocabulary list to her students, the words themselves are what echo through the canyons of Mister Boomer’s aging mind. Miss Downey had evidently decided it was time to inject real, multi-syllable words into her classroom of impressionable minds; words with the heft of literature behind them, words that would speak years later, when reading a paragraph and that flashlight bulb of recognition blinked for students a distant memory away.

Here is a sampling of words presented to Mister Boomer’s seventh grade class by Miss Downey, that Mister B has to admit, fifty-plus years later, find their way into his speaking and writing at an opportune regularity that seems beyond coincidence — which was one of her words:

coup d’etat
modus operandi

Following her lead, Mister B found a genuine appreciation for James Thurber cartoons in the New Yorker magazine, and began his lifelong interest in science fiction, beginning with reading the novels of Jules Verne in her class. Mister Boomer sends a heartfelt “thank you” to Miss Downey, and all who teach. The juggernaut of time cannot erase the quintessence of her verisimilitude.

Did you have an influential teacher in your life, boomers?