By: Anastasia Dula, Class of '58 researcher and UM-Flint student
In the 1950s, Flint, Michigan flourished. A booming auto industry, plentiful jobs, and veterans returning home from war helped contribute to an ever-expanding population. To keep up with its expanding populace, the city itself grew, constantly adding new roads, infrastructures, housing, and schools. The city already had a junior college, and the University of Michigan had begun to offer a handful of extension classes in Flint in the 1940s, but no program yet existed for students who wished to attain a four-year degree at a public university within the city of Flint. At this time, the University of Michigan happened to be considering the addition of a sixteenth college in order to support the influx of veterans who would soon enroll in college on the GI Bill, and Flint's city leaders encouraged them to establish their new college in the auto city. To further this aim, Charles Stewart Mott offered $1 million to help fund such a school in Flint. It was also suggested that the proposed school be a senior college-- that is, degree-seeking students would be required to accumulate enough credits at another college or university to achieve junior status before being admitted. The idea was ultimately approved, and the Flint College of the University of Michigan held its first day of classes on September 23, 1956.
The first students of the Flint College had a unique college experience. One unusual circumstance was that the very small size of the new college afforded for very small class sizes-- the graduating Class of 1958 comprised only 76 students. This small number of students allowed many of them to get to know both their classmates and their professors very closely, and created an atmosphere that several describe as being almost familial. A second unique aspect of the Flint College's first classes was the average age of the students-- a large number of them were older than the average college age, a fact that some suspect made the class as a whole particularly studious and motivated to succeed. Many of them were veterans going to school on the GI Bill, and many others were longtime Flint residents who had never been able to afford to "go away" to college. Alumni recall that their classmates' average age was probably around 40, though there were also some younger students as well as a woman who was already a grandmother. It was very common for these students to work their way through school, often at area employers like Buick, AC Spark Plug, or the Flint Journal.