Expanding Horizons, 1950s
During the 1950s, Armstrong's enrollment, programs, and costs increased steadily. Korean War veterans returned; and many of them enrolled in Armstrong's new large Evening College program, which reached out to working adults and others interested in courses for academic credit, professional skills, or personal enrichment. In collaboration with local industry, the college established a Technical Institute, with off-campus courses, students and faculty from Union Bag, Southern Bell, Savannah Electric and Power Company, and the Corps of Engineers. The supplemental programs served the community and also helped the college's budget.
In 1955, Armstrong's budget of $193,600 received $72,500 from the city of Savannah. Mayor W. Lee Mingledorff believed that it was time for the city to end its financial support of the college, and he began to work to get Armstrong into the University System. At the same time, the University System saw a need to increase the number of state-supported junior colleges in order to prepare for the coming wave of baby-boomers.
Armstrong alumnus Frank Cheatham, who was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1953, stood at the center of the negotiations between the city and the state. Cheatham chaired a legislative study committee that produced the Junior College Act of 1958. It provided a way for junior colleges like Armstrong to remain under the control of local public authorities and still receive tax-generated funds through the University System. The Act was of interest to Augusta and Columbus, as well as Savannah, since all three cities had similar interests with regard to local, city-supported junior colleges.
Key amendments to the Junior College Act, however, empowered the Board of Regents to establish criteria to be met before funds would be released. At Armstrong, the criteria hit hard. The college's buildings did not include a gymnasium or a college-owned library, nor did the college's facilities meet many of the code requirements set by the University System. As a result, Armstrong might not be eligible to receive state funds under the Act. The other option was to give up all ties with the city and join the University System outright. It was a bitter-sweet decision that marked a break with the past and the beginning of life as a state-supported institution. Savannah agreed to pay the University System $495,000 to cover the cost of correcting the designated deficiencies.
On February 5, 1959, Mayor Mingledorff signed the papers that transferred Armstrong College of Savannah into the University System of Georgia. Tuition dropped from $65 to $33 per quarter for full-time students, and expectations rose that four-year status might lie in the not far distant future.
In the meantime, life went on. Faculty and students came and went through the big front door of the mansion. Pioneer Days introduced boots and beards and bonnets for an annual event of western wear. And blue smoke hovered over the hamburgers and bridge tables in the Dump, as the records in the jukebox dropped and played the favorites of the 50s.
Read on to the next years in history... Breaking New Grounds, 1960s.