During World War II, many colleges became training centers for the expanding American military. Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, then known as Arizona State Teachers College, was one such school.
World War II affected many aspects of American life. The enlistment and drafting of so many young men after America’s entry into the war caused the college-enrolled population to rapidly decrease. Almost every institution of higher learning in the United States saw its student body shrink, though smaller state institutions, with their significantly lower funding and already small student bodies, were particularly affected. One such institution hard hit by the loss of so many young men to the military was Arizona State Teacher’s College (ASTC) in Flagstaff, now Northern Arizona University. The school lost so many students to the war effort that by the 1943-44 school year, the institution had shrunk to a student body of eighty-four, compared to a 1940 enrollment of 535 students. This reduction led many of the educators at the school, including President Thomas J. Tormey, to fear that the Arizona Board of Regents would shut the college down.
However, while the civilian educational institutes faced a dwindling population, the armed forces faced an opposite problem. The pre-war Army and Navy of the United States had been a small, underfunded force. With the declaration of war, the size of the United States Navy increased by seventy percent compared to its pre-war strength. This massive influx of new recruits overwhelmed the armed services pre-war training institutions. To address both of these problems, President Franklin Roosevelt encouraged the Departments of War and Navy to conduct the necessary training on the nation’s college campuses.
In 1942 the Navy selected ASTC as a site for the Navy College Training Program, designated the V-12 program. The Department of the Navy designed this program to train the swelling officer corps that would command the new two–ocean navy. The Navy chose enlisted men who had some college education for officer training. While ASTC effectively became a Navy base, the Navy allowed civilian students and teachers to remain on campus and to enroll in V-12 classes.
The institution became a strange intermediary between a naval base and a college. A geography class offered to sailors and regular students organized a Grand Canyon trip. When the program ended in October of 1945, 1,025 marines and sailors had passed through Flagstaff, 400 at a time. The influx of men and government funds kept the college afloat, with the Navy rental of dorm rooms bringing in an estimated $24,848 in profit, about $800,000 in current currency. Beyond the financial aspects, the influx of so many young servicemen changed life on the campus, turning it into a military institution. Many of the female students welcomed the influx of so many young and eligible men into the institution, with the local sororities often holding dances. After the war, many of the veterans returned to colleges on the G.I. Bill. In 1966, ASTC became Northern Arizona University.