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Oldsters and anti-riots: Headlines of the 1960s

March 30, 2011
Michael Erb

PARKERSBURG - While the college that would become West Virginia University at Parkersburg was just beginning to grow, area officials and journalists were quick to weigh in on the topic in some downright strange ways.

In 1965 as reports of protests, student riots and police crackdowns were filtering out of California's colleges, a local columnist pointed to the local commuter college as an "anti-riot" solution.

The Parkersburg News headline was "Decentralized Local Colleges Could Be Anti-Riot Insurance." Within the story columnist Catharine Clark proclaimed, "Every time we scan the news we are thankful that we are removed from the congested areas of the country." Clark spoke out against the riots in California as well as crime reports from throughout the country, saying "There are many things that we can do and must do, but the first is to provide for education in smaller controlled units."

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It's not surprising Clark was finding any reason to argue for the benefits of a local community college. A year before her anti-riot column, Clark was singing the praises of WVU's branch campus and its "enrichment of the community." Clark also bragged that about 40 of the college's 171 students were from outside of the Parkersburg community, including graduates from Parkersburg Catholic and Williamstown High School, and one student was from Switzerland.

That column ran alongside a series of articles reprinted from Morgantown's The Daily Athaneum which cited mixed feelings on branch campuses among the state's legislators and outright opposition of such "marginal institutions" from higher education leaders.

Still, local students flocked to the community college, some in surprising numbers. In a later article the newspaper warned the college's younger generation of an influx of older students into the college.

Patrick Gilbert wrote the article headlined " 'Oldsters' Invade W.V.U. Center" which appeared in the June 30, 1968, edition of The Parkersburg News.

"College students everywhere," he wrote, "beware, the square, way-out, older generation are infiltrating your ranks! Yes, it seems more and more, older adults are returning to the ivy-covered halls in order to keep up with their own collegebound (sp) children, or to earn a degree for a better income or just to acquire more knowledge."

So how old was this insidious influx of white-haired senior citizens?

"These 'mature students,' " Gilbert wrote, "ranging in age from 25 on up, are rapidly swelling the number enrolled in night school and summer sessions."

In the article Robert Stauffer, then director of WVU Parkersburg Center, cited the two most rapidly growing segments of adult students as "the housewives who, in many cases, were trying for a degree and the service veterans who were holding a job and trying to pick up on their education," according to Gilbert.

The trend must have been viewed as a positive one by the college's administrators, because an article later that year proclaimed "WVU Center Reports Population Explosion," with the school's enrollment reaching a then-record fall enrollment of 789 students.



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