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Baby of Arts Degree

After World War II ended, large numbers of veterans were headed to college on the GI Bill, officially known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944. The GI Bill provided economic assistance to veterans so they could receive a college education or vocational training.

Enrollment at colleges and universities had dropped dramatically during the war, as high school graduates put college education on hold for four or five years so they could serve in World War II. Arkansas State Teachers College (ASTC), now the University of Central Arkansas (UCA), had an enrollment of 764 students for the 1940–41 school year. But by the 1943–44 school year, enrollment had dropped to 289 students.

After the war was over, the student enrollment at ASTC increased dramatically. By 1947, enrollment stood at 1,400, with the majority being veterans. The veterans were more mature than traditional-aged college students, and a large percentage were married. ASTC arranged for housing for married students in the form of mobile homes that were placed near the heart of the campus.

Due to the large number of married veterans living on the ASTC campus, babies soon began to appear, also in large numbers. ASTC’s president at the time, Dr. Nolen Irby, was quite fond of children and wanted to do something special for those children who had spent their early years on campus while their parents were working toward their degrees. To honor the children of veterans and other non-traditional students, Irby created the Baby of Arts Degree, a degree that was unique to ASTC. When their parents graduated from ASTC, the children also received a degree.

In a May 1949 article in The Echo (the student newspaper), Irby stated, “There are two types of children who receive these degrees, children of veterans who since birth have spent their entire lives on the campus, and the children of in-residence teachers who have returned summer after summer to take their degrees. Both groups have been taken into ASTC family life.” Irby stated that there were two major reasons for conferring this degree: “It created a definite feeling of fellowship between unmarried students and those with wives and families, and it creates positive publicity for ASTC because of its uniqueness.”

The parents enjoyed the ceremony and delighted in dressing their young children in caps and gowns. The Baby of Arts ceremonies were held in Ida Waldran Auditorium, and after the ceremony, the children and their parents were invited to the president’s home for ice cream and cake.

The Baby of Arts ceremony first took place in 1948, and the last was at some point in the late 1950s. An average of fifty children received the Baby of Arts Degree at each ceremony.

For additional information:
Bryant, Jimmy. “Baby of Arts Degree: A Degree Unique to Arkansas State Teachers College.” Faulkner Facts and Fiddlings 43 (Spring and Summer 2001): 4–6.

———. The Centennial History of the University of Central Arkansas. Virginia Beach, VA: The Donning Company, 2008.

Jimmy Bryant
University of Central Arkansas

Last Updated 9/6/2012

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